RDN photo Land classified as Private Managed Forest Land in the Regional District of Nanaimo has gone down since 2015

Regional District of Nanaimo losing forest, farm lands

Growth strategy report shows mixed results relative to regional district’s goals

The Regional District of Nanaimo is losing properties with farm class designations.

That finding was highlighted in the 2018 regional growth strategy annual report that was presented at the RDN’s committee of the whole meeting Sept. 3.

Senior planner Jamai Schile said that in 2018, the parcels with farm class status as determined by B.C. Assessment decreased to 674 from 713 parcels in 2017.

“The year between 2017 and 2018, we lost 41 parcels across in the region,” said Schile. “Twenty-five of those are in Electoral Area A [Cedar, South Wellington, Yellowpoint, Cassidy].”

Schile indicated staff have not determined exactly why the declined occurred, but speculated that it could be due to changes in farm practices, decrease in farm sales or sale of farm lands. They rely on information from B.C. Assessment but should the trend continue, Schile said they can engage the farm land owners as an option for a larger survey to determine the anomaly.

Electoral Area A director Keith Wilson shared some of his views about the decline in farm lands. He feels the numbers are not accurate.

“Age probably is the biggest factor,” said Wilson. “Farmers are retiring and their sons and daughters are smarter to know than to go back into farming, unfortunately. I think the farm status indicator might not be an accurate indicator from that perspective.”

Wilson pointed out there are a lot of land owners in urban and rural areas who are growing their own food and doing market gardening that are not getting farm status.

“They’re not looking to get farm land status,” said Wilson. “But in terms of moving toward sustainability for food supply and agricultural land, I think we’re a little healthier than what we’re seeing here. It’s just, I think, the indicators might not be right. I am just trying to put some minds at rest here.”

The RDN annually reports on the progress of its regional growth strategy, which is based on 11 goals. It uses 22 indicators to gauge whether the regional district is meeting its objectives, and the effectiveness of its policies. The results have been mixed. Out of 15 indicators identified in the report, 12 are either positively progressing or remaining stable, with three indicators moving away from the desired regional goals – this includes the loss of farm lands.

Another goal that’s moving away from target is the amount of land classified as private managed forest land which since 2015 has declined by 485 hectares. The region has decreased by a further 91 hectares between 2017 and 2018. The change is attributed to the sale of PMFL lands, which are re-classified by B.C. Assessment as a result of change of the primary use from forestry to residential.

The issue of housing affordability and suitability is another area of struggle.

The 2016 Canada census data indicated that the median household income in Parksville-Nanaimo is $62,844. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation which, establishes the affordable rent threshold for lower income households, there was an increase in the number of renters whose income is below the 50 per cent median for the region.

In 2018, the number of available units for lower income households has gone down from 2,301 to 1,173 within Nanaimo and Parksville. This trend, which has been happening in the last three years, is attributed to the rise in rental and home ownership prices and limited rental availability. As a direct result of this noted change, Schile said, the RDN is currently undertaking a regional housing and capacity study to better understand local housing issues, and to guide future policy development, as part of the regional growth strategy update.

In the areas where the RDN is showing positive gains in 2018 include transit ridership, state of growth in the region contained to well-defined areas, and continued success in achieving the per-capita waste disposal target.

Michael.Briones@pqbnews.com

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