By ROY WOOD
Over objections from some nearby residents, Osoyoos council today endorsed the removal from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) of a small parcel already surrounded by residential development.
The 3.24-acre rectangle, adjacent to Highway 97 between Oleander Drive and 32nd Avenue, is the last piece of ALR land within the town’s “Urban Growth Boundary.” It’s already zoned for low–density residential use and is designated residential in the Official Community Plan.
Planning director Gina MacKay told council aerial photography indicates there has been no serious agriculture on the land at least since 2004. Much of the property to the north, east and south were excluded from the ALR decades ago.
About 30 area residents crowded into council chambers Monday to hear deliberations, although there was no opportunity for them to speak to council.
At issue, several of them told council by letter, is a small pond that straddles the boundary between the parcel in question and the Sonora Gardens strata-title subdivision. The gist of most of the letters was that keeping the land in the ALR will protect the environmental integrity of the pond.
“We are worried that the removal of the ALR designation would have adverse affects (sic) on Sonora Pond and its ecology,” wrote strata association president Clara Hawkins. “The pond is important to our residents. There are turtles, tree frogs, bats, muskrat, tiger salamanders and several species of birds that reside in the park.”
Missing from the letters was any acknowledgement that the role of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) is to protect agricultural land for farming, not for environmental reasons.
One resident, who preferred not to give his name, said the Sonora Gardens residents spend considerable time and effort as stewards of the pond and its inhabitants.
A “NO TRESPASSING PRIVATE PROPERTY” sign is posted at the top of the access trail to the pond.
MacKay told council the town is aware of the issues at play and pointed out that any development on the land would need to go through a development approval process, where the environmental values would be taken into consideration.
The parcel is currently covered in grass and weeds. There is an older two-storey house in the northeast corner and a dilapidated shack down near the pond.
The town’s agreement to support the exclusion may or may not have an effect on the ALC’s decision.