Administrative law – Decisions reviewed – Agricultural Land Commission – Municipalities – Planning and zoning – Judicial review – Compliance with legislation – Standard of review – Reasonableness

Guse v. Provincial Agricultural Land Commission, [2018] B.C.J. No. 3624, 2018 BCSC 1983, British Columbia Supreme Court, November 9, 2018, R.J. Sewell J.

The Agricultural Land Commission rendered a decision, dated March 24, 2017, denying the petitioner’s application for approval of a subdivision of a single parcel of land. The Commission denied the petitioner’s application on the basis that it was less than two acres and therefore required consent to be subdivided. The petitioner submitted that the lot was less than two acres and therefore the land was not subject to the land use restrictions under section 23 of the Agricultural Land Commissions Act, S.B.C. 2002, c. 36 (the “Act”). The issue was whether the Commission committed a reviewable error when it determined that the parcel was less than two acres.

In 2009, the petitioner became the registered owner of the parcel and, in December 2015, the petitioner applied for approval to subdivide the parcel into four lots of approximately ¼ acre each. As the parcel was adjacent to agricultural land, the Commission was asked by the City of Langley for input with respect to potential buffering requirements between the parcels and the adjacent agricultural land. The Commission concluded that the parcel should be considered two acres as it was 1.995 acres and therefore the Commission’s approval was required. The Commission then considered the petitioner’s application on its merits and denied the application.

The petitioner submitted that the standard of review was correctness while the Commission submitted the standard of review was reasonableness. In relying on Edmonton (City) v. Edmonton East (Capilano) Shopping Centres Ltd., 2016 SCC 47, the Court concluded that the issues did not raise a question of central importance to the legal system as a whole and therefore could not be reviewed on a correctness standard. The standard of review was reasonableness.

The Court held that the Commission’s decision to deny the application was unreasonable. The Court concluded that the Act contained a clear and unambiguous definition of the size of parcels which was not considered by the Commission. Further, there were no alternative interpretations to this meaning given the history and context of the section of the Act.

In the result, the Court set aside the Commission’s decision. With the Commission’s agreement, the Court made a declaration that the parcel was exempt under section 23 of the Act.

This case was first published in the LexisNexis® Harper Grey Administrative Law Netletter.