Rocky View County council adopted interim amendments to section 4.5 of Municipal Development Plan (MDP), June 29.
The amendments will clarify what is required by an applicant wishing to re-zone and subdivide their land for new or expanded agricultural operations.
“I was pleased these went through,” said Tim Dietzler, Rocky View Agricultural Fieldman. “I know they are only interim, but I think they are a small step in the right direction to help clarify any applications.”
New requirements include a planning rationale that justifies the need for rezoning; an assessment of the land that would include suitability of the soil, topography and surface and groundwater hydrology; and an assessment of the impact the proposed use will have on the parent property and adjacent lands.
According to Dietzler, staff and council will now be better able to evaluate proposals.
“It helps simply for the landowner to know what they really have to address,” said Dietzler. “Before, it was so vague.”
The existing MDP has been in use since 1998 and wasn’t an effective tool as it didn’t identify what new or expanded agriculture was, and it limited evaluation to the proposed site.
According to Dietzler, the biggest change is that applicants will have to show the plan is viable and compatible in the proposed location.
“In the past, we often got information that council couldn’t use,” said Dietzler, adding that under the Municipal Government Act, council can’t consider estate or financial planning as a reason to subdivide.
“It needs to make sense in the context of the location on which they are planning it,” said Dietzler. “It is whether the proponent can show that it can work.”
Six to eight applications come in each year from producers wishing to subdivide their land for new and expanded agricultural uses, said Dietzler. Examples are varied and include expanding from a garden to a u-pick, starting a horse breeding facility, new green houses, hydroponic gardens and building a corn maze. Dietzler expects that number to rise.
“As time goes on and people are coming up with new ways to make money, I think we might see more of these,” he said.
Several councillors questioned the timing of the interim amendments, as staff is currently working on an Agricultural Master Plan (AMP), which will be completed in the new year.
According to Dietzler, council requested amendments about 15 months ago, before the AMP was initiated.
Dietzler said Rocky View is making these changes, in part, to encourage agricultural diversification.
“Producers who have been involved in our discussions have told us there are road blocks and opportunities in diversified agricultural,” said Dietzler. “They want the roadblocks removed and they want to see progressive policies.”
Springbank area resident Gloria Wilkinson said the amendments were a positive step forward.
“It makes it open and totally transparent to the applicant and council,” said Wilkinson. “Right now, they can do a 10-minute presentation, get what they want and walk out the door. Whereas now, they actually have a list of things they have to prove to council and administration.”
According to Wilkinson, there are cases where residents have misrepresented the reason behind an application so they can subdivide and sell.
“They are a small number, but boy do they cause trouble,” she said. “I would think this would lead you into a direction away from the hocus pocus.”