Century loses appeal on Southlands assessment Entire Tsawwassen property classified as residential  

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The Delta Optimist
By Sandor Gyarmati

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Even though it's zoned agricultural and some people insist it remain as farmland, the entire Southlands property has been classified as residential by the B.C. Assessment Authority.

Concerned about a massive tax wallop, Century Group president Sean Hodgins said last week he's been put in a difficult position after losing an appeal of an earlier decision by the assessment authority.

Part of the property bordered by 56th Street and Boundary Bay Road had already been classified as residential but this year about 200 acres that had previously been classified as farmland lost that classification, said Hodgins.

"All the forested areas were being taxed residential and I kind of got over that, but we're farming some of it but lost the farm assessment. I am reeling from this right now," said Hodgins.

"Some people are telling me I should just farm it. Well, we are farming it and yet we're taxed residential," he said.

The Tsawwassen property has been zoned agriculture by Delta since the early 1990s and it's currently in Metro Vancouver's Green Zone, but it's long been out of the Agricultural Land Reserve.

"This is the dichotomy, this is the contradiction, that I have to work through in owning this property," said Hodgins.

The assessment authority's reclassifying the property as residential comes as the Tsawwassen Area Plan Committee considers the future of the site.

The Century Group is proposing to build 1,900 housing units on the Southlands following the modern concepts of new urbanism. Forty-two per cent (about 200 acres) of the land would be dedicated to urban agriculture. The agricultural land, which would undergo work to improve the soil quality, would be given to Delta.

The proposal also includes a post-secondary institute focused on sustainable agriculture, in partnership with Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

On another front regarding the property, a resident recently sent the Optimist several photos of a gravel road built on the Southlands, and asked whether it was a prelude to development. Reiterating that some farming activity does take place, Hodgins, who also lives on the Southlands, said he had a separate access road built so trucks and farming equipment would stop using his home's driveway.

© The Delta Optimist 2010

Letter To the Editor - Lana Popham  

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The Okanagan is a place where people understand that food is an ingredient in the recipe of history, of culture, and of community. Food is the social glue that holds families and societies together.

Yet, despite the importance of local agriculture, orchardists are sounding the alarm. Like many other farmers, orchardists are having an increasingly hard time making ends meet. Without strong, decisive action from all partners, particularly our provincial government, we could lose this culturally significant and economically important industry.

It doesn't need to be this way. We could save money while helping local farmers if we allowed ourselves to think creatively.

For instance, if our health authorities bought as much food as possible directly from local producers at a fair price – cutting out the middle man -- we could save money on hospital food costs, while farmers could get a fair price for their product. Buying bulk, directly from producers of all products from fruit to pharmaceuticals is a common sense way to contain costs in our health system.

Here in British Columbia we produce less food than we consume. The fact that orchardists are getting ready to quit the industry shows that we are not maximizing opportunities in our own market.

It's not just orchardists -- ranchers are in a similar predicament. B.C. produces less beef than our population consumes, yet ranchers can't make a buck on the hoof.

The problem isn't with our local agri-food businesses -- they're run just as well run as those in other jurisdictions. They've made tough decisions, worked to contain costs, and consolidated operations; closed packing-houses are evidence of that. What is missing is a provincial government that works to maximize opportunities for local producers to connect with local consumers.

For nine years the B.C. Liberal government has been missing in action after mothballing Buy B.C., a successful provincial branding initiative that put B.C. produce front and centre in the places where consumers buy food.

Government dollars are not a cure all for any industry, but the Buy B.C. program is a perfect example of how small, smart investments can boost industry, create jobs and preserve the unique heritage that makes our province special.

On average, Buy B.C. cost less than 1.5 million dollars a year, which is pocket-change for a government that spent nearly a million dollars on Olympic tickets for B.C. Liberal MLAs and their friends. This branding program is just the sort of smart, targeted investment that can help our agriculture sector thrive. It was short-sighted to cut this efficient and popular program, especially when we need to produce more food.

Farmers in the Okanagan know first-hand about the devastating impact that lack of water has on food production, yet too much food on our dinner table comes from water-starved California. As gas prices go up and water becomes increasingly hard to find, producing local food for our families will only become more important.

British Columbians are increasingly looking for B.C. food, for its environmental and health benefits. In the province that birthed the 100 mile diet, the demand for local food has never been higher.

Yet our government cut investment in agriculture by 27 per cent last year, despite evidence that eating locally is good for the environment and good for the economy.

We still have the opportunity to protect local agriculture by making common sense decisions – reducing red tape where it exists, and finding ways to open up new opportunities for farmers to sell directly to consumers. Farmers deserve to get paid more than $6 for a box of apples that we buy for $40.

It’s time for the B.C. Liberal government to stop taking local agriculture for granted, and start building bridges between farmers and consumers. It’s the right thing to do for our communities, our economy and our environment.