Bob Menzel's dream for building nine houses on his flood-prone Prospect Street property has drowned in the muck of provincial bureaucracy, as B.C.'s Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) denied his bid to subdivide the land.
Menzel, who operates Adventures on Horseback at 7476 Prospect, sought to exempt his approximately 30-acre property from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), in order to subdivide it into nine one-acre lots and leave aside 20 acres for a common farming area.
The property is bordered by a Canadian National Railway line and bisected by Two-Mile Creek. Arn Canal flows through the property north of Two-Mile Creek.
The commission's South Coast Panel, which examines properties in areas such as Greater Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and Squamish-Lillooet, considered Menzel's application in four parts.
At a meeting on April 22 the panel granted an exemption to a small section of property east of the CN Rail line. The commission noted that a single reserve property borders that section of property but the owner expressed no objection to that exclusion.
That section is separated from the rest of the property by the rail line and is "physically inaccessible" to the rest of the property, according to Menzel. He's considered selling it to an owner of an adjoining land parcel that doesn't lie in the land reserve.
The commission then visited the property on April 23 with all South Coast commissioners in attendance. Also in attendance were Menzel and wife Susan Perry, as well as Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy, Jeff Westlake of the Pemberton Valley Dyking District (PVDD) and ALC staffer Tony Pellett.
Those at the property walked to a location where much of it could easily be seen. Westlake explained to the commissioners how water collects on the property and said the Arn Canal, which flows north of Two Mile Creek, has overflowed in the past and threatened urban areas east of the rail line.
The commission met in Whistler later that day and decided to refuse the subdivision because the proposal would "reduce the agricultural potential of the property to an unacceptable level." It also noted that the proposal "grossly exaggerates" the area available for nine one-acre lots.
Beyond concerns about development on the property, the commissioners said improved drainage on the property could alleviate the agricultural capability of the land to a Class 2 level, one of its highest ratings, and other portions of the land could be improved to Class 3.
Assessments of agricultural capability in the Pemberton Valley are usually taken from a 1980 survey but in the case of this property a larger scale analysis was done.
Despite the commission's decision, Menzel is hopeful that he can get his property out of the ALR. Under the Agricultural Land Commission Act he has a year to submit a request for reconsideration and that means a comprehensive drainage plan has to come within that time period or Menzel will have to file another application.
He said he's working on a plan with the village to possibly install a water pumping station to help reduce flooding on his property - floods that have suffocated and even killed horses he keeps there.
He was critical of the approach that the commissioners took to examine his property.
"They just stood at the tracks, had a peek and basically left," he said. "I hate to say this, but it's basically an agenda to save farmland. You can drain any lake and make farmland out of it."
Colin Fry, executive director for the commission, said the South Coast Panel relied on the report of an agrologist hired by the applicants when making its decision - a report submitted along with the application.
"In this particular case we had the benefit of a fairly intensive level of scrutiny by a professional agrologist that exceeds the information that we have at our own disposal," he said. "This is a very specific review of a specific property so it is more intensively scrutinized, so those figures are something that the commission could take great faith in."