Group calls for moratorium on subdividing in Red Deer County

Allowing farmers to subdivide their land is critical to preserving the family farm tradition, Red Deer County council was told on Tuesday.

Allowing farmers to subdivide their land is critical to preserving the family farm tradition, Red Deer County council was told on Tuesday.

About 30 people filled council chambers and more than a dozen got up to urge council to drop a proposed moratorium on allowing undeveloped parcels to be subdivided out of quarter sections until a major overhaul of the Municipal Development Plan is completed later this year.

The motion was proposed by Councillor Dave Hoar, who said he wanted to spur debate about the issue of how to preserve farmland while giving landowners the flexibility to sell off some of their holdings.

For some farmers, subdividing out an acreage and selling it off provides important income to keep the farm going. For others, carving out a small piece of property gives the next generation a foothold to begin their own agricultural careers.

Council got a clear message from all of those who spoke that subdivision should continue to be allowed.

Following the hearing, council unanimously voted to scrap the moratorium idea and to continue to allow the subdivisions.

Innisfail’s Jim Daines said he’s seen how young farmers are able to get a start by owning their first small piece of land.

“If you want to keep agriculture going you want the support of young people getting into it,” he said.

George Johanson, who has helped a number of landowners pursue subdivision, said there are a number of scenarios that favour allowing farmers to sell off a portion of land.

In one case, a farmer bought a quarter section for $790,000 and then sold an acreage-sized parcel for $250,000 to $280,000 to subsidize the farm.

“At 790, it would never pay for itself — we all know that,” he said.

In another case, a family with four sons was preparing for succession and looking to find a way that all would get a financial share even though only one brother was a farmer. Allowing, each quarter section to be subdivided gave each sibling a valuable share while leaving enough land for a viable farm operation.

Hoar said he was glad to see so many show up to voice their opinions on the issue. Open houses on the municipal development plan have only drawn a tiny percentage of county residents.

“We’ve had a lot of difficulty, in my mind, getting the opinion of the community,” he said, adding allowing bare parcels to be subdivided out is a relatively recent change that drew controversy at the time.

Mayor Jim Wood was also pleased at the turnout, suggesting it was democracy in action. “As members of council, it isn’t always easy to see how you think.”

While allowing subdivisions is clearly popular, Coun. George Gehrke added a note of caution. Allowing the land base to be carved up too much won’t leave the large tracts needed for intensive livestock operations.

“If you diminish those areas we lose them. It’s gone, and it’s gone forever.”

Some of those who spoke also wanted to see current restrictions that limit bare parcel subdivisions to three to five acres reconsidered.

Wood said those kinds of changes will be part of the discussion as the development plan is updated. The public will get a chance to comment again on any proposed changes.