A local soil scientist and business owner spoke to council on Oct. 26 about the increase of non-farm use activities on agricultural land.
John Paul, who runs Transform Compost Systems in Abbotsford, called on the city to launch a task force to ensure bylaws be enforced “fairly and with transparency.”
Paul said he is a soil scientist and a professional who has worked with properties in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).
He said he is a business owner who has tried since 1998 to develop a business creating organic fertilizers.
Paul said non-farm use is currently regulated through a complaint system, which he said is not effective, explaining that it puts the focus on the complainant and not the illegal activity and fosters animosity among neighbours and competitors.
He said he is aware of business owners who know about illegal use of agricultural land but do not speak out over fears of repercussion.
Businesses that actively or passively ignore the regulations receive either strict enforcement and threat of fines, the city turns a blind eye, or “Abbotsford gives what I call a wink and a nod,” said Paul.
The response is more problematic when there is real or perceived favouritism, such as when businesses have contracts with the city get “a wink and a nod,” he said.
Inconsistent enforcement affects everyone through lost tax revenue from non-farm use on properties that still pay the low farm tax rate, difficulty attracting investment due to inconsistent enforcement and loss of economic opportunities, he said.
He said he is most worried that legitimate businesses who wish to comply with environmental regulations are simply not able to compete.
He said a serious social concern is the “loss of public trust.”
Paul called on the city to create a task force to include city council, the bylaw department, planning department, the agricultural advisory committee, businesses, and agricultural and environmental experts.
He said there should be several priorities for the task force, including making sure the city is complying with its own regulations, addressing business that the city has contracts with, and non-farm uses that harm the environment.
The benefits would be greater efficiency; streamlining tasks for Abbotsford and ALC staff; protecting farmland, food security and the environment; and transparency.
Coun. Bill MacGregor asked Paul whether the task force work could be done by the agricultural advisory committee. Paul said it is a great place to start.
Coun. Henry Braun said he has voiced similar concerns in the past that the city is not applying bylaws consistently across the board, saying Paul raised some issues that should be looked at.
Transform Compost Systems was a proponent for a composting facility at 5050 Gladwin Rd.
That project was not realized and the site is now home to Net Zero Waste Abbotsford Composting Facility.