Last week, Simon Fraser University hosted a packed house for another City Conversation panel discussion, this on the topic of “Saving the Best Land in Canada: Crime, Policy and Food Security in the Agricultural Land Reserve”.
City of Richmond Councillor Harold Steves (who is also one of the founders of the Agricultural Land Reserve), community activist Jack Trovato and Anita Georgy of the Richmond Food Security Society described the situation — with only 1% of all farmlands in Canada deemed Class 1 agricultural for growing a wide range of local market vegetables, such land is inarguably valuable for future generations for food security.
All the agricultural lands in Richmond are Class 1, the best in the country.But therein lies the controversy.
Despite Agricultural Land Reserve designation, land speculators have found a way to buy agricultural land in Richmond at a cheaper price. Under the existing City of Richmond zoning, which allows house sizes of nearly 11,000 square feet on land over one half an acre, speculators have repurposed this agricultural land into gated private estates with mansions. There have been huge land lifts — Price Tags previously discussed one property which was purchased for $88,000 three years ago, and is now appraised at 8.3 million with a half-built mansion.
There is another piece to the farmland’s disappearance. Offshore property owners of these estates do not need to pay the 20 per cent foreign buyer’s tax, as agricultural land is exempt. Grow a cheap crop like blueberries, and you can also be taxed at the agricultural tax rate. As Harold Steves stated, it is time to make decisions about agricultural land based upon the common good. Transforming the best farmland in Canada into private estates negates all potential for land inventory for future food security.
The City of Richmond is not alone in this abuse of farmland policy. Abbotsford’s “Abbotsfwd” plan is also contingent on gutting large chunks of land out of the Agricultural Land Reserve to satisfy industrial demand.
One audience member observed that the City of Richmond Council refuses to alter housing size on the Agricultural Land Reserve lots, which may speak to some type of complicity that demands a full-scale citizen protest and inquiry.
While the Richmond City Council twiddles their thumbs about doing the right thing and ensuring farm land for future generations, 61 more applications are waiting to be approved for creating 61 more 11,000 square foot mansions on farmland.
Activist Jack Trovato posted a video on Twitter that shows the size of these “farmhouses” usurping the rich soils that took the Fraser River 10,000 years to create.
What is the #ALR? it was created 40 years ago to protect land from development. Currently, #RichmondBC is under threat of over-development. Want to check out the video that @JackTrovatoRCA showed? Watch it here. #cityconv https://t.co/37aeoKEu0C
— SFU Public Square (@SFUPublicSquare) April 19, 2018
The solution? Standardize the house size limit, based on that which is allowed in other areas of Richmond, and ban the foreign ownership of farmland.
In the interim, farmland in Richmond is now being valued at $1 million/acre, and you can be sure that land will never return to its original use, being part of the local food security for Metro Vancouver.