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It’s been a grumpy week. Despite the fact that megahouses are taking up the most arable lands in Canada in Richmond, the City Council there decided that this land was just fine for houses that are 10,764 square feet if you have half an acre of farmland to plop it on.
Imagine-if you live in Richmond or want to hold property there, you can simply buy land in the Agricultural Land Reserve, not pay the foreign buyer’s tax of 15 per cent, and (bonus!) be classified as agricultural land for tax purposes if you are able to raise farm product. In Southlands in Vancouver, mares often had their foals on large properties specifically so that the mansion owners could qualify for the hefty property tax reduction. And here’s another interesting fact-houses that are 11,000 square feet are classified as “mansions” in the United States. The Canadian country cousins in Richmond usurping the best farmland in the country are a mere 35 square feet below that size.
As Alan Campbell of the Richmond News reported at the end of the public hearing on the mega farmland mansion matter, Councillor Harold Steves (his family started Steveston, developed the first seed company on the coast, and still own and operate their century old farm) walked out of the meeting. This was the first time Councillor Steves has left in frustration but since the majority of Council sacrificed the farmland that predicated the existence of Richmond in the first place, it seemed a pretty logical thing to do. In fifty years we will look back on the  huge mansions built on postage stamp acreages and remember the elected people who gave up on this opportunity for creative sustainability, the Agricultural Land Reserve, and our right to easy access to farms and food. It’s a sad and important moment-but if you have half an acre of farmland, go build your really big house. Future generations will remember this decision.
Councillor Steves later talked about what was happening with these “farmland” properties. “I gave an example of a recreational property with a 12,000-square-foot house, 24-seat theatre, possible swimming pool, tennis court, cabana, and driving range, taking up the entire property. That will likely be the norm,” he said.
“I told council that the increase in the recreational housing threat to farmland is due to the lack of foreign buyers’ tax, low farm taxes, reduced education taxes and ease of exemption from property transfer tax by occupying the premises in some way for a year.”
“This permits about 1,000 parcels of farmland that have not had new houses built yet, to eventually become recreational properties, with tenant farmers on the remaining land…if there happens to be any.”
So why did Richmond Council not do the right thing?  Look at their constituency-farmers, the stewards of the land will not be able to afford property that is squandered into mansion properties. They will be tenant farmers, not owners.  Other people who own that farmland (or would like to) argued their right to take that economic lift and house their families in something over five times the size of an adequate Vancouver house.
Trying to be conciliatory, Richmond Mayor Brodie stated “There are reasons why some people in the farming community want bigger houses….There are many houses in the 18,000-square-feet range and higher and there are people who would like the house sizes to go even larger…We had to come up with a reasonable maximum that will allow people (farmers) to achieve their goals .  The Mayor also “admitted there is a “third category” out there who “want majestic estates.”
In 1976 Mary Rawson wrote Ill Fares the Land which set up the idea of an Agricultural Land Conservancy. Harold Steves was one of the original proponents of the strategy. And that land, precious to future sustainability will now be further fractured. You’d think in forty years we’d be better stewards of this precious resource. We and our elected officials are not.
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  1. I wonder if the donors to the ruling Richmond council party and majority individual councillors and mayor are listed on the Web? Will there be ties to the builders and owners who construct these fatuous house fantasies?
    Maybe some Metro councils and mayors need a modicum of the scrutiny Gregor et al get on a daily basis.

  2. At the public hearing there were many informed presentations from the public, on why this type of development is unacceptable but Council was looking for a one size fits all solution. Many presenters who are farmers were asked by Council members ” What size is your house” with the expectation that a magical number may emerge that Council could support as the new standard. This is a multidimensional problem which requires a multi faceted policy. The main objective is to stop absentee landowners from building luxury estates on Richmond farm land, and at the same time dodging property and Provincial taxes while masquerading as a farmer.
    One presenter projected a vivid example by projecting a picture of a 16 bathroom mansion currently under construction on 4 Rd below Steveston Hwy. Some of the Councillors were shocked by the image. Councillor Derek Dang even went as far as to ask, “did we approve this? The answer from staff was, “no this house conforms to the current guidelines and therefore does not need to go to council for approval” Mr Dang looked bewildered…..observing Mr Dangs ignorance caused me to come to the conclusion that public hearing process was a charade. How can any Richmond Councillor sit through a public meeting and ask that question, let alone not be aware of the house sizes associated with the issue and then not be aware of the current bye law. Talking about going to a meeting totally unprepared! I think his behavior said it all, Richmond Council has put the community in this predicament as a result Richmond is loosing its dignity as a city. Richmond citizens and the farming community have been voicing their concerns for a long time on this issue and its only because the issue was brought to national attention in papers across the country that they are prepared to adjust the bylaw.

    1. Thanks for passing that on, how ridiculous! There is no excuse for what’s being allowed to happen on the farmland there.

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