Sprawlproof? Kent looks to allow subdivision of ALR-exempt farmland

The District of Kent is examining whether small ALR-exempt lots can help reduce housing pressure on the municipality's downtown

By Grace Kennedy | September 8, 2021 |3:28 pm

How do you build more housing when everyone is already living on all your developable land? That’s the problem municipalities in the Fraser Valley are facing. And that’s the problem Kent, a geographically huge municipality on the north side of the Fraser, hopes it might be one step closer to solving.

Currently, there are around 2,000 homes in the District of Kent. Most are in Agassiz, the municipality’s only townsite But Kent needs more than 280 new homes by 2025, and right now has very few places to put them. Like many Fraser Valley cities, most of Kent’s land is locked up in the Agricultural Land Reserve or located on mountainsides that are unsuitable for development. (Mount Woodside, which is home to Harrison Highlands and an adjacent new development, is one exception.)

But Kent has no shortage of farmland. So staff are suggesting the district look there as an option—specifically, to dozens of lots that are exempt from Agricultural Land Reserve restrictions. A parcel that recently came before council, located on Golf Road near Back Porch Coffee Roasters and Harrison Lavender, is one such property. Because it has been smaller than two acres since before 1972, when the ALR was formed, it is exempt from ALR restrictions that dictate what can and can’t be done on the land.

The owners want to subdivide the undeveloped property into three half-acre lots, and create a new zone that would allow a developer to build a house on each. The idea could be a unique way to solve Kent’s major housing quandary: where to find more land. It also comes with potential problems.

Creating smaller lots in rural areas can contribute to “urban sprawl,” where moderately dense residential areas extend significantly beyond the boundaries of the city core. Places like Abbotsford, for example, have urban development boundaries that specifically work to contain growth, so that the city can deliver things like water and sewer efficiently.

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A staff report on Kent’s proposal said that the “estate-sized lots” under consideration can be serviced with on-site wells and septic systems, mitigating that concern. Staff also said half-acre lots “do not lend themselves to urban sprawl within a community.” If the proposal goes ahead, the district would also conduct neighbourhood consultation and more detailed planning for the area.

It is also unclear whether the half-acre lots proposed by Kent would help with housing affordability in the district. Staff said increasing the supply of single-family homes “would have little to no impact on effectively increasing housing affordability or supply of rental housing.” Currently, 20% of its residents are living in unaffordable housing, with apartments and multi-family homes the biggest upcoming needs, according to Kent’s Housing Needs Assessment. (Earlier this year, the Current did a round-up of all the Fraser Valley’s housing needs assessments.)

However, the assessment noted that most people moving into Kent have been retirees from Metro Vancouver looking for single-level ranchers or bungalows in non-strata locations—exactly the type of homes that would be developed on these new lots. There are 200 ALR-exempt lots in Kent, and about one-third could be subdivided to fit the new requirements. Kent has had other inquiries from property owners on Golf Road about subdividing their properties.

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The hope is that building more homes on what had previously been agricultural land will encourage the newcomers to purchase outside of downtown Agassiz. Relieving that market pressure for large lots in the downtown core could potentially create opportunities for townhouses or apartments to be developed instead, staff say.

In August, Kent council gave two readings to the bylaw amendment, which would see the creation of a new zone, and the Golf property rezoned. (The actual subdivision would come back to council at a later date.) The amendment is coming back in a public hearing tonight at 7pm, where residents can share their thoughts on the proposal. Kent will vote whether to give third reading and final adoption to the proposal at the council meeting after the public hearing. (Final adoption will be subject to approval from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.)

Grace Kennedy

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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