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Tuscan farm subdivision gets go-ahead from ALC

The Agricultural Land Commission has approved the subdivision of Tuscan Farm Gardens at 24453 60 Ave.

The ALC's April 21 decision, made public only this week, is the latest in a series that allows housing subdivisions within the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The Tuscan Farm application, made by Lorad Enterprises and Lavender Hills Holdings, was to subdivide the 80-acre property into two, one parcel of 48 acres acres on the northern part of the property, the other 32 acres on the south.

The current zoning is one-acre, but the purpose of the application is to establish 65 residential lots on the southern part, and develop the housing in subdivision clusters.

Under previous owners, the Tuscan Farm Gardens, formerly a commercial lavender and echinacea enterprise, was the subject of several similar applications which all failed.

Township Councillor Kim Richter said residents should be extremely alarmed at the number of ALR exclusions and subdivisions, and the pace with which they are being approved.

"I am extremely concerned about this recent ALC decision. It definitely signals an alarming trend. Over the past three years, too much land has come out of Langley's ALR for non-agricultural purposes," Richter said.

"I am very disappointed that the majority of council, including Mayor [Rick] Green, voted in favour of this subdivision application on April 26, 2010. How can Mayor Green honestly claim to be a champion of protecting farmland when this happened on his watch?"

Richter said that a subdivision of 65 clustered housing units on 32.5 acres of existing ALR farmland in the heart of agricultural Langley "is a bad decision for the future of rural Langley and the Hopington aquifer. It's inexcusable, indefensible and definitely not environmentally sustainable."

Green and the rest of council "have opened the floodgates to development and increased density on Langley's most vital, fragile and strained aquifer. This is not a legacy for anyone to be proud of," she said.

In April, Councillor Charlie Fox expressed the same concern for another subdivision application within the ALR, this one for the Omelaniec property at 23712 - 56 Ave., and 5585 and 5559 238 St. The ALC approved this on April Fool's Day, allowing for the 16 one-acre residential lots.

"I feel that this might be the tip of the iceberg in terms of other properties which have similar zoning wanting to develop," Fox said, noting that unless municipal water and services are provided, more water will be drawn from the Hopington aquifer.

The recent surge in applications supported by the Township comes despite a moratorium on subdividing properties above the aquifer. However, the moratorium, which was approved by council resolution almost two decades ago, does not supersede the Township's zoning bylaw. Only rezoning applications are subject to the moratorium.

For many years, former Langley station CJJC had radio towers located on part of the property. The ALC attached several conditions which must be met within three years, including the removal of buried wires associated with the tower equipment.

This part of the property must be restored and used as farming in perpetuity, the ALC ruled, noting that the owners have an agreement to lease part of the land to neighbouring Krause Farms.

Critics of subdivisions built on land zoned for agriculture have two key concerns: the erosion of farmland, and the threat to the Hopington aquifer which is the main source of water for 2,295 homes and 202 farms.

Classified by the province as heavily used and highly vulnerable to contamination, the Hopington is replenished mainly by rainfall (96 per cent), while waste from households accounts for four per cent. Usage amounts to 308 litres per day per person, most of it for showers and flushing toilets.

Critics have repeatedly said that the level of the aquifer is dropping annually, and what is left is subject to contamination. They also say that new construction will expand the area of impervious surfaces above the Hopington, which currently stands at 25 per cent.

The ALC leaves it up to the developer to handle sewage disposal. Its report refers to a "proposed sewage treatment plant"  which the ALC states "cannot under any circumstance contaminate the Hopington Aquifer or other waters or lands."

Similarly, the water source for the subdivision is unclear.

The ALC report continues that "either the development will be serviced from a public water supply, or alternatively that the proposed deep aquifer source can continue to provide sufficient water for the proposed development without concourse with or disturbance of the Hopington Aquifer at any time during drilling, testing, construction or operation of a water supply serving the development from that source."

It notes that the Tuscan development, which includes a community garden in its green space, proposes to connect to the public system by means of a main "to be laid at a suitable depth" below the [neighbouring] Giesbrecht farm.

"This proposal is at the request of Mr. Giesbrecht, who requires additional water for his own use and who would therefore benefit from having the main under his farm," the report stated.

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