A court petition from the owner of a Surrey driving range and golf course in Surrey that sought to reverse a decision that would compel the Agricultural Land Commission to exclude the land from the Agricultural Land Reserve has been dismissed by a judge.
The petitioner, R.N.L. Investments Ltd., owns a 9.35-hectare parcel of land in Surrey at 5228 King George Blvd. used as a driving range and par 3 golf course, namely Birdies & Buckets Family Golf Centre.
A July 13, 2015 planning and development report from the City of Surrey states the applicant intends to develop the site as an industrial park.
The petition was heard in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, with Justice Gordon Funt presiding.
In his July 22 reasons for judgment Funt noted that the owner’s original application to the provincial ALC regional panel to have the land excluded from the Agricultural Land Reserve was successful but was denied upon reconsideration by the ALC executive committee.
Funt noted the petitioner wanted the original decision honoured, arguing that the chairman of the ALC was “biased and fettered his discretion” in referring the original decision for reconsideration, that the executive committee exceeded its jurisdiction “by overturning the original decision without a proper basis, and that the reconsideration “was undertaken in a procedurally unfair manner.”
The petitioner submitted that the chairman failed to follow principals of procedural fairness “by unreasonably fettering his discretion in making the referral based simply on the fact that the property was used as a golf course rather than considering the application on its merits.”
The respondents, on the other hand, submitted the chairman “acted reasonably” and “did so in a timely manner.”
Funt found the chairman did not “breach a duty of impartiality.”
“None of the petitioner’s grounds succeed,” he decided. “The petition will be dismissed.”
The purpose of the ALC is to preserve agricultural land and encourage farming. An application asking for land to be excluded from the Agricultural Land Reserve is done in stages.
On Feb. 11, 2015 the petitioner applied to the City of Surrey to have the subject parcel excluded and city council on July 13, 2015 approved the planning department’s recommendation to send the application to the ALC “without comment.”
The regional panel decided to allow the exclusion, with one of the commissioners dissenting.
“In brief, the majority found that the subject parcel had ‘significant challenges for agricultural development due to excessive wetness’ and was isolated ‘from other ALR lands’ with a ‘significant negative impact on the potential to use the property for agriculture,” Funt noted.
“The dissenting member believed ‘the subject property has potential for agriculture uses, should the golf course use cease, and that the adjoining and surrounding incompatible land uses are not relevant to undertaking agricultural uses on the property.”
The petitioners challenged the executive committee’s authority to reverse the panel’s decision.
Funt noted that the legislated composition of the executive committee “is designed to ensure the purposes of the ALC are fulfilled on a consistent basis throughout our province. Executive committee reconsideration helps to ensure a consistent approach, say, with respect to the effect of ‘excessive wetness,’ on decisions related to the possible exclusion of land from the ALR.”
The judge said that if the court were to accede to the petitioner’s argument, “the legislative purpose could be undermined” and “two or more regional panels could make ‘reasonable’ but inconsistent decisions that could not be reversed.”