If you attended Monday night’s City of Richmond council meeting, or watched their live stream, you were witness to one of the biggest land-use travesties of this generation.
Council didn’t just approve residential development on Class 1 farmland, the best in Richmond (and possibly in Canada). The majority voted in favour of mansions up to 10,764 square feet, plus additional dwellings for farm workers up to 3,229 square feet.
That’s almost 14,000 square feet of total living space, effectively available for development by a single person or family. Many are owned by offshore interests.
The City of Richmond Council has effectively affirmed developer interests in place of the rights of future generations of Metro Vancouver residents to have access to fresh, local food, or food security. Half of the farms in the City of Richmond are gone, and 61 applications are fervently awaiting approval, now beholden to development and the almighty buck.
The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) is not some land gift for the City of Richmond to give away. It was carefully established in 1972 to prioritize the protection of arable land for agricultural uses, and to save this farmland for future generations in British Columbia.
Of course, land that is deemed agricultural has a lower property value than residential, and that’s where developers and speculators, many offshore and in numbered companies, have exploited it. Find a piece of land in the ALR over one half an acre, buy it at agricultural land prices (in the process avoiding the foreign buyer’s tax, which doesn’t apply to agricultural land), build a huge mansion, and sell it at a multi-million dollar lift. Owners may decide to grow some berries or raise a horse, and thus be taxed at agricultural (not residential) rates.
It’s the perfect scam. And that land will never be available for a future farmer to buy.
This land is good enough to raise a variety of vegetables, not the low maintenance berry crops that proliferate today. You can’t blame the speculators hammering Richmond council for their piece of the supernormal property lift either.
Think of it. Richmond was called the “garden city”, in part because of the access to these amazing farming soils. But that is no more.
In their short-sighted decision, the City of Richmond has set a precedent in declaring open season on Agricultural Land Reserve lands throughout British Columbia. The care and thought taken in ensuring food security for generations, undertaken by the province over 45 years ago, has been lost, and agricultural land in other municipalities will be seen as fair game for development.
There are now questions in formal channels as to which developers provided campaign funding to the Richmond City Council, and whether those funds have influenced the stewardship of agricultural land.
Last year Richmond lost fifty farms to gated mansion estates, never to return to agriculture. You can only marvel at the lack of foresight.