Farming rules relaxed in Gabriola community plan amendments

NANAIMO – Gabriola Island allows tourist accommodation and secondary suites on Agricultural Land Reserve.

Gabriola farmers can now offer secondary suites and tourist accommodation in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

New changes have been made to Gabriola Island’s Official Community Plan to give a boost to local farmers and food production, as well as protect streams and limit car use.

The latest amendments are considered to be progressive and the most significant since the vision for Gabriola was first adopted in 1997, according to Courtney Simpson, regional planning manager for Islands Trust’s northern office.

The most innovative for Gabriola is allowing secondary suites and tourist accommodations on farm properties, she says.

There are more than 5,000 hectares of ALR across Gabriola and the new policy is aimed at helping farmers and providing accommodation on site for seasonal workers and people doing work exchanges. Residents have outlined difficulties to farming in the community, including lack of a labour pool and affordable housing for farm labour, a community profile shows.

“Farmers are struggling all over the place … and certainly on Gabriola and I think that this is a change that respects the scale of development on Gabriola, the scale of farming, the rural character but still provides an economic opportunity for farmers so they can keep farming,” Simpson said.

Heather Nicholas, Gabriola Island local trustee, calls the new policy a win-win with agricultural, economic and tourism benefits.

Nichols added it was an attempt to make it easier for farmers to have seasonal workers and volunteers through Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, as well as agri-tourism. Road-side farm stands are also now legal

Plan amendments also include stream protection to comply with provincial regulations and new parking rules that will give developers a maximum number of parking stalls to provide instead of a minimum. Property owners will have more flexibility to determine what parking is needed for a business but will also take a risk if they don’t provide enough, according to Simpson, who says developers are in control of the decision as opposed to it being mandated by local government.

While not without criticism, Simpson said it’s done in a lot of areas to encourage greenhouse gas emission reduction.

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