Agricultural subdivision rules to be tightened

Concern that tree farms were being used as a loophole to subdivide land in Lacombe County will be addressed with new rules.

Concern that tree farms were being used as a loophole to subdivide land in Lacombe County will be addressed with new rules.

Since 2007, 45 applications were received by the county for subdivision of unsubdivided quarter sections for use as specialized or intensive agricultural operations (such as greenhouses and other horticultural businesses) yet only two were established after the subdivision was finalized, according to Dale Freitag, the county’s manager of planning.

Councillors met as a committee of the whole on Oct. 23 to discuss this and other planning issues. Then at their Nov. 9 meeting, they unanimously approved recommendations from that meeting.

Discussion took place regarding tree farms being established across the county and the current policy, during the committee meeting. Also discussed was preservation of agricultural land.

The recommendation from that meeting was that “the Municipal Development Plan and, in particular, the policy on agricultural subdivisions be changed to require the establishment of an agricultural operation prior to the consideration of the subdivision; and further, that the operation be established to at least 50 per cent capacity.”

Freitag said during the committee meeting that almost all of the agricultural operations that are on property after the subdivision approval were operating at the time of the subdivision application. “By requiring the operation to be at 50 per cent capacity, it deters applicants from just initiating an operation to get approval.”

Under the current policy, subdivision was considered following submission of adequate detailed information describing the operation, such as a business plan that may include a financial plan, and that the proposed lot is not less than 4.05 hectares (10 acres) in size.

County staff will now proceed with preparing the necessary changes and then bring them back to a future council meeting for debate and adoption.

Another item on the agenda of the committee meeting was the county’s long range planning program.

Freitag said since the Municipal Development Plan was adopted in 2007 identifying policy areas for future development, the county initiated an aggressive long range planning program which resulted in updating or developing six Intermunicipal Development Plans with neighbouring municipalities, eight Area Structure Plans and two recreation plans.

“As more plans are created, more resources are need to keep the plans up-to-date,” he indicated.

He added that remaining policy areas are not in high demand and can be spread throughout the queue but that existing plans do need to be updated.

The recommendation from the meeting was that the county “continue the long range planning program with more emphasis on updating existing plans and the initiation of new plans be limited to no more than one a year”.

Councillor Dana Kreil asked if the Medicine Lodge Hills plan would be prepared in 2013 or 2014. Freitag replied that at the December meeting he’ll be bringing back a proposed long range plan for discussion by councillors.

Other recommendations from the committee meeting were that a fees and charges policy be amended to “provide for options to charge higher fees for unauthorized developments and developments that do not meet conditions of development approval”; that the Land Use Bylaw not be amended to provide for an increase in maximum height of ancillary buildings in the RCR Country Residential District; and that Lacombe County remain unaccredited for the purpose of administering Safety Codes.