It is not every day when a local family seeks to dedicate a large inherited piece of property for the public good. After reading last week’s article regarding plans by the Kiyooka Estate to donate a 72 acre piece of private property near Tete Jaune to the public in the form of an environmental and historical land trust, I was appreciative. The property in question has very high environmental value due to its proximity to the Fraser River and location on an active flood plain. But the historical significance of the property is even more impressive. Surely a Trust will be the best use of this property for the sake of preserving these two important resources. However designating large parcels of private land as Land Trust Protected Areas is becoming very common in BC, and across the Province more and more such protected areas are currently being planned. This is creating a bit of an issue especially when considering some of the factors that are driving our housing unaffordability crisis. To put it plainly, despite being surrounded by land, very little of BC is available for residential development.
It comes as a shock to many, but only about five percent of BC is private land. One percent is federal land, and 94 percent is public crown/unceded. To make matters worse, the vast, vast majority of this five percent is agricultural fields, and large undeveloped rural parcels. This leaves a tiny sliver of land available for residential use. So while it may seem like a win for the environment putting a little bit of land back into use primarily for nature, we could actually be creating a socio-economic problem and much closer into the future than we think. Already in BC, 14 percent of all public lands are designated as Parks and Protected areas. Now enter a more recent development. Both the Federal Government and Provincial Government of BC have announced that they intend to designate at least 30 percent of all landmass protected. So now not only will future supplies of potential residential lands be limited, a massive amount of land will soon be designated as not available for economic activities like timber harvesting as well.
This begs the question. What are the true future needs of generations to come and how should we plan for this? Land availability and the price of timber are literally the two single highest costs for residential housing in Canada. Considering the past three years, agricultural land should also be deemed precious for the sake of food security.
Now it needs to be understood that the parcel in question is not suited for residential development. It has marginal use for agriculture as well. But there are other crown lands that are not yet designated for development that would be perfect as such. For instance, immediately adjacent to Valemount are thousands of acres of flat dry and sandy pine flats where disease affects the majority of trees. These areas serve no use to agriculture, marginal use to forestry and have marginal environmental value at best. But they would be perfect for future residential property, with much denser development than large-parcel remote hobby acreages. What we badly need is a policy of land swap. When a piece of property is currently zoned for residential use, if this property is to be removed from our inventories, another piece of similar size should be designated to replace it. This happens all the time in other states and provinces. Seventy two acres of residential land adjacent to Valemount would most certainly be a win, win, win. Without these very serious land inventory considerations, more private land trusts will results in a win, win, lose. British Columbia has loads of lands for everyone to use appropriately, we just have to plan ahead to maintain adequate inventories of all designations.