Saturday, May 13, 2006

Old Macdonald had a farm - he owes he owes he owes

A key component to “how the community will look 20 and 50 years from now” within the framework of a “solid vision”.

Winning back the farmlands of Maple Ridge

Some initial thoughts and concepts

First three months of the next three years = devise a plan

Formula for success: Planned + Coordinated + Sustained = implement the plan

Definitions, glossary and terms of reference

During casual discussions between the Mayor, council, staff and the public we all use terms to describe the components. Nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs fly hot and heavy during, for instance, the debate over the OCP. The 2005 summer public hearing was an excellent example of broadly used terms that were meant as one thing spoken, but heard as another, often opposite meaning. Probably the best example of this is the use of the terms “agricultural”, “conservation”, “open space”, “park”, “community forest”, “research forest”, “forest reserve” and “greenway.”

The terms above are taken directly, and in order, from the Official Community Plan Schedule B dated revise April 29 2003 and one which the public and Planning Department currently use for reference when dealing with Zoning applications and other planning matters.

An obvious and glaring omission to the informed, will be the fact that nowhere on the OCP Schedule B, will the reader find the words “GREEN ZONE”. Considering the attention that these two words received during the OCP hearings and more recently at the all candidates meetings this omission seems odd. More odd yet is the fact that nowhere on what we refer to as our “Official” Community Plan is there any reference to the phrase “Agricultural Land Reserve” or for that matter “Agricultural Land Commission.” How is that the most important single document in the District fails to describe the most often referred to areas of contention in the community? It is understood that the OCP itself refers often and clearly to ALR, Green Zone and the ALC and the prescribed process for handling applications for exclusion, but no one casting and eye over the April 29 2003 map would be struck by any of the implications that underlie these issues.

Add to the above the fact that proponents and opponents in every debate use the various description terms to suit their own points of view and often transpose meanings with one another, it would be advisable to include in any future planning or attempts at visionary or long-term planning exercise terms of reference that are agreed by all members of the Planning Department, Council, Committees and Commissions.

Before leaving this subject of definitions, we need to clarify what is meant by GREEN ZONE and perhaps more important we need definitive legal opinion on who is the final arbiter of what is known as the GREEN ZONE. A basic question may be: “Is there a GREEN ZONE?” If the answer is “yes” should there not be a line notated as “GREEN ZONE” on the next OCP?

In his inaugural address Mayor Robson refers to the need to “re-examine the ALR and Green Zone” as, in his words, these tools are only ways of “delaying the inevitable”. Most significant is Mayor Robson’s idea that we, the community, must decide what the “end product must look like.” We should pause right there. One might, rather than use the words “end product” substitute the word destination. With a long term (20 to 50 year) destination in our collective mind, it becomes necessary to set out on this “visionary” journey with some navigational tools, way points and a map. The terms of reference and how they are defined are the only tools we have and so need to be commonly understood by all the players and stakeholders.

Sticking with the Mayor’s address we should immediately be aware of his reference to “public lands”. The Mayor will be looking for a plan that supports the “permanent retention” of public lands. Any committee, commission or work group involved in developing a scheme that will meet the Mayor’s expectations would be well-advised to seek clarity on the technical and legal meaning of “public lands” by today’s definition and any anticipated changes to the definition which may be required to meet the 2006-2009 council’s expectations. Public ownership comes with unique rules which need to be addressed separately from the OCP in the first instance and then re-introduced into the OCP context subsequently, once the rules are clear. EXAMPLE: Public Lands could for instance, mean Municipal acquisition and title to farmlands with the express goal of ALR protection. Just as an example the concepts below hint at some likely complexities and questions that need to be addressed in order to explore the realities of such an idea:

Primary Tasks
This is not an academic exercise – it is aimed at finding a practical solution to a planning issue.
Yet data and research are critical to its successful outcome

Gather the discrete facts (data) and create and information library by organizing the data into reports for the study of the “The Problem”
Research various methods that have proven successful in finding solutions to the conflicts arising from the effects of sprawl on agricultural land reserves.
The problem
Urban Sprawl
Extended thoughts
The solution
A 50-year plan to protect agricultural land
Make the ALR inviolate.
Alter the role/relationship of ALC/Maple Ridge Council
State goal

1000 Friends of Maple Ridge Example
“To preserve the rural character and community spirit that contributes to the quality of life in Maple Ridge” 1000 Friends of Maple Ridge (CA note: this message is not as strong as it could be )
Protect the ALR
Establish a permanent urban boundary
Ensure all development contributes to quality of life
Preserve and celebrate environmental qualities
Acknowledge natural heritage
Insure direct resident involvement in planning process
Monitor performance
1000 Friends of Maple Ridge Draft
Define a process
Charrette, public information/hearing

Communications Committee
Who talks to GVRD, Province, Real Estate Board

Expect law suits from owners of ALR who want it excluded.
First Pro most likely the first to file a claim?
Compensation Plan Proposal
Establish land costs based on what – adjust tax base to make purchases fair and possible.

What is assumed about developers, farmers, the public, Victoria, Ottawa, taxes, transport etc?
How does one turn assumptions into discrete data and then assemble data into manageable information?
Taxes, subsidies and the agricultural economies
The emotional desire to protect farmland may not be matched to the systemic and political realities.

What are the founding
Long-term sustainability
(maximum 6)

Devise Plan

Build list of proponents and opponents

Third party support

UBC (Patrick Condon) David Suzuki etc.

Look for models in other jurisdictions.
Philosophical and philanthropic support
James Pattison + Milton Wong

Political Support
Carole Taylor, David Emerson


Community Charter

Legal mechanisms for excluding lands from the ALR are counterbalanced by legal mechanisms for protection of arable and grazing lands.
Assemble technical papers
Provincial, UBC, Golder, Envirowest, World Farming Organizations
Many farmers and economist agree that farming the soils of Maple Ridge is not viable. Were it not for the fact some of the land was staked (freely gifted) during the early days of settlement the land would today be built on.

Countering this argument is the notion that ALR must be protected no matter what the $ cost may be as the cost of losing the ALR is too high in terms of environmental and community.
Assemble economic data
Economic Development Department to gather financial data
Comparative studies need to be done that will show how the manner in which a farm comes into being (how it is paid for, for what its purpose is etc) will determine the attitude of the farmer towards exclusion.
Demographics and Psychographics
Age, marital status, number of children (mal/female), level of education, social standing, social mores play a combined role in determining a farmer’s reaction to the prospect of exclusion or protection.
Similarly the make-up of the Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows community is constantly changing. Many people move to this area in the hope of cheaper housing, more green space and a better lifestyle for their children. Some of them are disappointed to find that Maple Ridge may soon be indistinguishable from Burnaby, New Westminster or Richmond. On the other hand some of these newly arrived residents are delighted to find the prospects of Maple Ridge growing to become a replica of these other communities (that is to say, all the amenities at a lower cost – Big Box shopping etc).

Why are we thinking of embarking on this journey?
Are we driven by the trend to environmental protection which may be traced back to larger issues such as Global Warming, Kyoto, Globalization, fossil fuel emissions, reduction in ice cap mass, famine in Africa, instability caused by US military presence in the Mid-East etc?

Or does Maple Ridge simply want to “be different”?

How do we prepare and how to we make it happen?
First we find out if it is legal. If it is not legal we attempt to change the law. Law by definition is an amendable and flexible mechanism. It is only “law” until such time that it is changed by consensus within the democratic framework.

If it can be legally achieved, we need to ask the community if it is what the community wishes? Does the community want a 100% built out Maple Ridge – over time this would be the logical result of creeping loss.

Or does the community seek balance.

Or does the community feel that “creeping loss” can be replaced with “creeping gain” of the ALR.
Reversing a trend is what the real aim is
Loss by creep replaced by gain by creep.

The legacy Maple Ridge would leave on the Fraser Valley is that it reversed creeping loss by introducing creeping gain through the introduction of specific bylaws whose intention was for the sole purpose of protecting further depletion of the ALR.
Notes: from Livable Region Strategic Plan.

Review the plans in relation to OCP and Area Plans – look for conflicts.

The urban Reserve – does it meet with realities of 2005 as it was established in the 1980s.

Are any of these documents amendable or are they meant to be “for life”
Define the differences between Green Zone and Agricultural Reserve. Highlight the differences between conservation, park, open space, community forest, research forest, forest reserve, and the extension to forest reserve, agricultural reserve (how do these areas relate to the so-called Green Zone? What is the Green Zone?)
Prove the economic argument.

Alternatives to population increases
Alternatives to sprawl

Think of sprawl as an addiction.
Sprawl is the GM and the Ford of urban planning.
Protective development is the Honda and Toyota of future urban planning.
Bring the pro-agri/green groups together.

Certain groups who may not agree on many things will have to agree on at least one thing – farm lands must be protected forever.
To do this one must change the way we look at the OCP and get away from the simple routine of pigeon holing the zones into convenient slots. A wider view of the problem is required.
Advocate brown/gray/blue fields for future absorption of population.

Use alternatives to the subdivision to act as blotting paper in absorbing population growth.
Saturate infill before contemplating any expansion of urban boundary.

Leave the argument for the north/south or east/west urban expansion debate for future OCPs not the current one.
Forecast food costs for growing and transportation

Federal Studies for coast to coast food demands.

Study European examples.


Create a higher model for our children’s children.

Look beyond 5 or ten year plans to 50 and 100 year plans.

Encapsulate in a 3-month draft plan – make it part of OCP?

Broaden and deepen the chapters on ALR in the 2006 review of the OCP.

The amalgamation question

(CA wants to draft a blended OCP)

Public ownership of farmlands.

How is it paid for? DCCs etc. SEE DIAGRAMS

The “M” word.
Are we talking moratorium on ALR – the “M’ word
Perhaps the real reason is to disprove that a moratorium is impossible.

What power does Maple Ridge District have as the “primary gatekeeper”?

(see page 9, 2002 Annual Report of Livable Regions Strategic Plan)
“Farmland is an important part of the Greater Vancouver landscape. It is a significant contributor to the regional economy, provides the region with a supply of high-quality, local foods, and it provides considerable green space for the benefit of humans and wildlife.

“Since 1973, agricultural land in BC has been protected by the Agricultural Land Reserve Act. The administration of this act is the responsibility of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC). HOWEVER, the primary “gatekeepers” of the Agricultural Land Reserve are individual municipalities.



The plan (OCP) may be more forthright in stating the developers must infill before outflow.

The ALR amendment to the OCP
If the bold print above is true and accurate (published in the GVRD’s own report) then one has to recognize that mechanism for protecting land within the Maple Ridge ALR is contained in one document and one document alone; the Official Community Plan. It is only when the researcher understands this as an irrevocable fact that the significance of getting the OCP right become clear. A poorly written OCP can have long-term negative effects on the future of Maple Ridge. A well-defined and clearly written OCP can have a positive long-term effect the future of the community.

The OCP is the effective DNA of the community’s future.

Given that the OCP is the sole responsibility of the Planning Department and its passage into law is the sole responsibility of council, it is understandable that the public, both pro-development and pro-environment, become highly agitated and extremely vocal during the times when the OCP come up for amendment through the amendment process.

It s highly probable that the 2006 revision of the 2005 OCP review may well result in a 2007 review, in the event that the OCP is seen by the public as failing to establish a vision for the next 10, 20 and 50 years.

The public have become acutely aware of the implications of the OCP and this awareness is not limited to the NIMBY groups, special interests or academic meddlers. 145 speakers from every corner of the community spoke out against the draft contents of the OCP in 2005. Council and staff took note. How they respond under the guidance of the newly elected council will be telling.

Can tax on open inner city lots be amended to encourage sale/development of neglected inner city sites?

Measure the resistance to the concept.
Public good v. Individual Rights.
Tax department prepares ratio analysis of open lot tax returns compared to built lots of similar size – what is the loss in $ to the District.

This money (if it were converted to tax dollars) could go towards securing agricultural lands on “lease-back” basis for public benefit for instance.
These are complex propositions which go to the fundamentals of the tax system.
In the United Kingdom and Europe, communities have established numerous Public Trusts

(Claus has been talking to one in Somerset for three years now).
Agricultural and Green Zone should be treated as “heritage”
Our past supports our future.
What does Bob Parliament think? Get support form Province and Ottawa?
When holders of small agricultural lots wish to sell they should be purchased by the District at fair market value and aggregated with other contiguous properties where this is possible in order to “win back agricultural “assets for the District.
The long way round.
The purchase by Victoria of certain lands from the Laity family for the purpose of constructing the “North Connector” along 128th Avenue requires that a “fair market” price be paid for the land. What is the formula for fair market price per acre and how can this formula be utilized in determining the cost of land in the future in the even that the district were to acquire ALR lands for protection?
The plan could be cross-border and

Pitt Meadows shares similar concerns about its Agricultural Land Reserve.
Joint committee formed and announcements made between Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.
The District of Maple Ridge
The Community Charter
What are the District’s rights when it comes to placing moratoriums on specific zones?
Is the District entitled to make sweeping fundamental changes?