It is hard to believe that a former farming community like the City of Richmond, which has championed density in its downtown areas has neglected to protect its agricultural roots and assets. The City of Richmond has Class One farmland, the very best in Canada within its municipal boundaries. While other communities would perceive that farmland is probably the most important legacy that can be passed onto to future generations as part of local food security, the City of Richmond has dithered at reducing the square footage of mansions allowed on farmland in its jurisdiction.
Price Tags Vancouver has previously written about the fact that Richmond City Council has allowed houses of over 10,000 square feet if there is a piece of farmland over one half an acre to plop it on. Ostensibly these houses were for large farming families, but the land instead has been turning into gated privately owned mansions owned by off shore investors, who pay no foreign buyers tax on agricultural land, and can get taxed as an agricultural property if they produce a nominal amount of farm product. You can bet that these large residences will not return to the market at any price a farmer can afford. In January Price Tags Vancouver discussed the house and land located at 11400 No. 2 road that was purchased with an assessed value of $88,000. A few years later with a mansion not yet completed on the same property, the assessed value is now $8.3 million dollars. “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.”
It is no surprise that with yet another vote expected today at Richmond City Council that those in favour of selling agricultural land for offshore mansions are worried about anyone stopping projected enormous development profit being reaped by selling farmland for wealthy private estates. Indeed The Farmland Property Owners Association has just released a statement accusing a tweet from Councillor Harold Steves, one of the founders of the Agricultural Land Reserve and an outspoken protector of farmland as “dividing Richmond residents based on their ethnicity,” and asked Steves to recuse himself from an upcoming vote on farmland size.
Steves is hoping to have housing size changed on farmland from over 10,000 square feet to 5,382 square feet, making the land not as attractive for gated mcmansioned estates. Once again instead of seeing arable land as one of the greatest generational gifts that can be handed down for the future, the spectre of supernormal development profit and land lift means private estate developers want to nullify the vote of one of agricultural land’s stronger voices. This is not a vote about ethnicity or indeed about development potential. This is about the right of a community to have food security now and in the future, and to recognize that agricultural land is its highest and best use. That is what the Agricultural Land Reserve was supposed to be.
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.” Today’s vote will show whether Richmond City Council are stewards of the farmland or contributors to farmland’s demise to large gated estates for the wealthy. You can get more information and follow the discussion and vote at Richmond City Council here.