A three-generation Langley family was blindsided by a change in rules that has left them in one rather cramped home on a newly-purchased property.
“It’s a big home, but it’s not meant to have 10 people in it,” said Cathy Fichter.
Cathy and her husband Brian Fichter are retirees, and after Brian was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease last year, they hoped to downsize from their three-level home.
Meanwhile, their daughter Alanah Fuduric, her husband Ryan, and their six children were looking for somewhere bigger than a townhome.
The extended family decided the best option was to pool their money to buy a farm property in South Langley. The Fuduric children would each have their own room, and the Fichters would be just across the garden in a newly-bought modular home.
After finding what they thought was the perfect home last fall, the family closed on the property on Feb. 26 this year. They didn’t realize that their time had just run out to add a modular home to the lot under Bill 52’s changes to Agricultural Commission rules.
“We were four days short of the Feb. 22 [deadline],” said Cathy.
The Fichter and Fuduric family weren’t the only ones caught off guard. So was the Township of Langley, according to Ramin Seifi, the general manager of engineering and community development, who said there was a lack of advance warning from the province.
Before Bill 52, the Township could issue permits for second dwellings based on a number of set criteria – if a farm had so many horses, so many dairy cattle, so many pigs, it could automatically qualify for a second dwelling, based on the idea that the farm would need more people.
“As it stands… we are no longer able to issue anything, because the Land Commission has to approve each and every one,” Seifi said.
And Cathy and Brian are far from the only people to be caught in a similar bind.
“We have heard from dozens of people,” Seifi said.
Most of the attention on Bill 52 has been focused on the size of homes permitted – but an amendment also limited the number of homes on agricultural land to one, and only one, unless the ALC grants an exemption.
The Fichter-Fuduric family has filed for an exemption, but have now waited almost three months for an answer, after being told it would be 60 business days for a decision.
“This is day 63, of the business days,” Cathy said.
The Fichters had everything ready – they had already purchased a new modular home, arranged permits for well and septic systems, and even for transportation. Now the modular home is simply sitting on a lot in South Brookswood waiting to be picked up.
If they had known about the deadline, the family says they could have accelerated their timeline, closed on the property a bit earlier, and by now, everything would be finished.
Instead, they’re in limbo.
Brian and Cathy are still sharing a home with their daughter, son-in-law, and six grandkids aged five months to 14 years old, a situation they had hoped would be very temporary.
“We’ve got lots of room,” Brian said sarcastically. “It’s a 12-by-12 [foot] bedroom.”
The room is intended to be the room of the youngest member of the family, five-month-old Charlie.
They aren’t sure what they will do if they can’t add a modular home to their property.
“We really don’t have much choice,” said Alanah. “We can’t afford to move back into what we used to have.”
She and Ryan are feeling responsible, after a plan that they thought would allow them to keep her parents close by but independent for as long as possible.
“My husband and I feel really guilty,” Alanah said. “It’s like this big dark cloud that looms over both of us.”
Asked about the changes, a representative of the Ministry of Agriculture acknowledged that in the past, secondary dwelling such as modular homes and carriage houses were allowed, even if not necessary for farming, and that local governments could make the decisions about allowing those homes.
“Moving forward, the new process will have the ALC, who have the technical expertise on farming, making decisions together with local governments,” the statement said.
People who want to build more homes on farmland to support their farming operations can still do so with support of the ALC, the statement said.
“With a growing population, climate change and ongoing land-use pressures, it has never been more important to ensure that the tiny percentage of land in B.C. that is best suited for agriculture is available and affordable for farmers and ranchers to produce the food that British Columbians need,” said the statement.
Alanah, who is planning to bring in horses, cattle, and possibly goats to the family’s five-acre property, hopes the ALC will consider her parents as farm hands and allow the second home.
Until her five-month-old daughter Charlie is school-aged, she’s going to need the extra help, Alanah said.