farmwatch
If anyone ever doubted that farmland was being usurped and transferred into private gated estate cash cows, this story in the Richmond News outlines exactly why we need to be concerned and why we need to address this right now.
Imagine a “shell company”~that is a group of people who do not need to disclose their identities~purchasing a 26.6 acre piece of Richmond farmland. They then build a home on the property getting their development permit in early 2017 when Richmond City Council nixed the idea of limiting the size of  houses built on Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR)  properties to 7,500 square feet, allowing much larger mansions of 11,000 square feet to be built. The house and land  located at 11400 No. 2 Road  had an assessed value of $88,000. This year with the mansion not yet completed the same property has an assessed value of 8.3 million dollars. You can be sure that this property will never be returned to farm use. As Richmond Farm Watch  and Richmond resident Laura Gillanders observes  “One by one each of these farms is being taken out of production and making sure it is never farmed by a farmer who can live on that land. It goes to show these mansions are not being built for farming.” You can take a look on the Farm Watch site at the “Visuals” section documenting the before and after photos and films of these properties taken out of agricultural production and made into mansioned estates.
Two Richmond councillors, Carol Day and Harold Steves voted against the larger square foot size for these properties. Mr. Steves has stated that agricultural land in Metro Vancouver is under “the worse threat it has ever been due to speculation, since the Agricultural Land Reserve was created in 1973.”  Mr. Steves is also one of the people who was involved in the initial  set up the Agricultural Land Reserve.
“Transparency International, a non-government organization, has reported how Metro Vancouver real estate is a prime target for speculation due to Canada’s weak laws surrounding beneficial ownership via numbered companies. The home at 11400 No. 2 Road is still under construction. According to BC Assessment, once it is complete, it will be among the top-10 most-expensive properties in Richmond. BC Assessment also delisted the property from farm class.”
So while the new owners will now pay for the land as if it is non agricultural, their property lift from $88,000 to $8.3 million dollars will soften that blow. And here is one more example of how the lax response of a city council and the  lack of Provincial regulation eats away at one of the most important things we can pass onto future generations~the most arable lands in Canada for food security.
The YouTube video below shows MLA Andrew Weaver introducing a Farm Watch Richmond petition in the  Provincial Legislature asking for stricter regulation of farmland.

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Comments

  1. Clever & affluent locals, rich immigrants and/or foreign investors all try to make some decent money and behave by and large rationally.
    If we undertax real estate (but overtax incomes), do not even enforce existing tax laws, and/or allow purchase of valuable and rare farmland or other residential (or industrial or commercial) real estate then the result is rather predictable.
    Ask these questions:
    1) Who is the big winner here ?
    Answer: province and city as they will collect huge taxes in perpetuity.
    2) Who is the big loser here ?
    Answer: Farmland advocates and perhaps, just perhaps, local farm land produce users .. perhaps. Also see question 3.
    3) What % of these small / hobby farms (not just here, but also Fraser Valley or Okanagan) produce actual produce for the marketplace ?
    Answer: I don’t know. Who does ?
    4) What % actual lease their land to other for commercial agricultural use ?
    Answer: I don’t know. Who does ?
    5) What % actually use their “farmhouse” to host a farming family, and what % uses it strictly for investment or recreational use ? [ Look at Naramata, Okanagan, for example where there are spectacular westerly views on these 2 – 10 acre “farms” for a similar alarming but utterly rational trend ]
    Answer: I don’t know. Who does ?

    1. Good points. How much produce does the ALR actually produce? It’s clear the idea of the ALR is more importance than its actual yield.
      Whether the land is eventually meteted out into large individual estates or “remains” the hallowed soil of the hardscrabble plucky farmers of our imaginations, the most important thing is that the land remain arable. The footprints of the buildings themselves are insignificant in context.
      Let’s be honest: if global food insecurity becomes serious enough to require the ALR’s yield to feed the region, those McMansions will quickly be razed. The shell companies who’ve paid for the right to legally occupy those lots will be matter-of-factly kicked to the curb. So long as the FAR on those lots remains real low, a few oversized private homes on massive ferile lots is not the end of the world. When that actually does come, the land will still be there, waiting.

  2. http://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0ahUKEwiE39b20NDYAhUY0WMKHTDbDjQQFggvMAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.metrovancouver.org%2Fservices%2Fregional-planning%2FPlanningPublications%2FFarming_In_Metro_Vancouver_Oct_2014.pdf&usg=AOvVaw1X5FUnT5aJ8mhoLCssKv3Hdkjfvhkjrh
    The above Metro Vancouver document (Google link copied) provides very good information on the ALR within Metro boundaries.
    Some of the highlights:
    – $789 million in gross farm receipts in 2010 (27% of the BC total) on only 1.5% of BC’s ALR land; this signifies the high productivity of Lower Mainland farm land.
    – 60,893 hectares in ALR land or 22% of the Metro’s land base.
    – 2,821 farms with 4,220 farm family members and over 8,000 people employed directly by farming in the Metro; 14 new jobs are created for every $1 million increase in farm receipts
    – 50% of Metro ALR land if farmed; 25% is not farmed but has the potential to be farmed; 25% is not available
    – of the unused land 65% is not used for the intended purpose but instead is occupied by residential, golf course, parks or lies fallow.
    Today, the Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley agricultural sector produces about $2 billion in farm receipts annually with over 45% of the products going to Metro markets.

  3. Perhaps they should have some sort of tiered property tax on ALR Land.
    I know for a fact that the land is vastly undervalued according to assessments. The value is generally tied to the production that the land is capable of. Land which has generally been selling at massively inflated prices recently has had ridiculously low assessed values and subsequently low property taxes.
    If you wanted to disincentivise the construction of mansions, an easy move would be eliminate most the mill rate on land, and jack up the mill rate on improvements and structures.
    If the land is assessed at $100K/acre and someone builds a $15M mansion on that land, why not have a huge mill rate (5% something similarly excessive) on that improvement. You could add loopholes for things like greenhouses to be excluded.
    That would mean some tax evader with a huge mansion would be constantly penalised for taking productive land out of use. Families with a normal-ish residence would see their property tax stay the same if you calibrated the reduction in land-value based tax to match the increase in improvement-value based tax.

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