Bus barns

This farmland property, at 4690 Highway 97 North in Kelowna immediately south of the UBC Okanagan campus, is being eyed for redevelopment by the city as a site for the Central Okanagan's new bus barns. The city's agricultural advisory committee opposes the plan.

The proposed loss of farmland near UBC Okanagan is regrettable but it would help improve transit service in greater Kelowna, city officials say.

Municipal managers are preparing to submit a request to the provincial government to exclude 16 ha from the Agricultural Land Reserve west of Highway 97 just south of the university campus.

The land is needed for new B.C. Transit bus barns and a future extension of Hollywood Road North, the city says. Other sites have been considered, but failed to meet the necessary requirements relating to size and location, the city says.

Councillors will decide whether to formally endorse the exclusion request at Monday's meeting.

The city's own policies say it will not support ALR exclusions except in "extraordinary circumstances". The proposal to remove the agricultural properties in question from the land freeze for the new bus barns and a road passes that test, the city says.

"An efficient transit facility is an integral component of a health transportation network and a new, expanded facility will help build capacity of the current public transit system," city staffers write in a report to council.

They acknowledge, however, there would be an "impact to agriculture" with the conversion of the farmland to bus barns. So they propose to mitigate these impacts with measures, such as new signs promoting agricultural businesses and a new city fund to reclaim other farmland for productive use, said to be worth $600,000.

Not good enough, says the city's agricultural advisory committee, whose members have twice voted against endorsing the exclusion request.

Committee members say the search for a new bus barn location was not thorough enough, and they say the city is underestimating the agricultural potential of the site in question.

While the site is in the land freeze, it's been earmarked for industrial use under city planning documents dating back to the mid-90s.

The Agricultural Land Commission has acknowledged this classification but that does not mean it would necessarily endorse an exclusion request, should council decide Monday to forward one to it.