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Price Tags has been documenting the unfortunate story of the mowing down of provincial farmland ostensibly under provincial protection via the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), developed in 1972, and currently being ignored by municipal councils with highly questionable motives.
The City of Richmond is currently on a tear, looking to approve 61 development applications for 10,700 square foot mansions with 3,200 square foot second houses (for “the help”?); the land is being sold off for cheap, the estates being built are usually gated, and the ownership often offshore. And Richmond isn’t alone in their march to hand off as much of the ALR as they can.
The City of Delta has turned agricultural lands into industrial lands (and even a parking lot for trucks). Abbotsford and Langley also want to carve out agricultural land for industrial and residential uses. The City of Surrey wants to reclassify 235 hectares from rural to a bunch of urban uses, moving urban containment boundaries. And with the spotlight finally being shone on these questionable land deals, a dirty word has also begun to pop up — corruption.
First, let’s review what we’re talking about. This isn’t just any farmland. The rich, alluvial soil in Metro Vancouver is among the best in Canada, accumulating over 10,000 years thanks to proximity to the Fraser River. These soils aren’t just for cheap, low maintenance operations like blueberries, which do qualify for farm status, but offer low return; a wide range of vegetables can be grown on these lands, providing work for farmers, and providing food security now, and for future generations.
So why is Richmond City Council allowing farmland bought at farmland prices to be transformed into gated estates, and to remain exempt from the foreign buyer’s tax? Why are they taxed at agricultural land rates, yet mostly subject to skyrocketing increases in value, as plaguing most of the rest of the region? Where is the outrage of Metro Vancouver citizens seeing the squandering of this supposedly protected farmland for short-term developer profit?
There’s good news on the horizon. The City of Richmond has three elected folks who have stood up against the development barrage hammering away at our farmland. Mayor Malcolm Brodie, Councillor Carol Day, and ALR founding member, farmer and Councillor Harold Steves have said no to developing on farmland. The rest of the developer-driven City of Richmond Council, which has voted in favour of squandering the ALR, will be challenged by a progressive slate for City Council. This slate is comprised of people seeking to be something this current City Council is not: “a transparent and open city government that’s more accessible to the public and listening to what citizens actually want.”
Imagine — a council ready, willing and able to listen to residents, not developers. Running alongside Steves for Richmond council are Jack TrovatoKelly Greene, and Judie Schneider. Endorsed by the Richmond Citizens’ Association, these candidates are active in the community and have been speaking out against the steady erosion of the ALR.
And citizens are finally speaking publicly about the farmland travesty in  Richmond: Sabine Eich cogently wrote in the Richmond News:
I went to Steveston Highway and No. 4 Road to photograph the mansion (as big as a shopping mall) that’s under construction on farmland. I asked myself why the community of Delta, our neighbour on the other side of the Fraser River, doesn’t have Richmond’s problems of excessively large houses on farmland. Can Richmond’s farmers legitimately claim to have needs that are so different from those of Delta’s farmers? Corruption grows slowly but steadily. Stamping out corruption slowly, however, is rarely effective. What is effective is to go cold turkey – to interrupt corruption abruptly. That’s one positive change an election could bring about, as long as we select the right candidates.”
The vote on October 20th gives the City of Richmond the chance, once again, to give citizens a voice on the stewardship of the most precious resource that made Richmond what it is today — farmland.
The municipal election is the opportunity for Richmond to turn the corner, from a Council kowtowing to developer profit, to one that is mindful of the stewardship of land for today and tomorrow. Once Class 1 farmland is built upon, it is gone forever.
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Comments

  1. It’s good that this problem of ALR development continues to be highlighted; however, I’m not going to automatically subscribe to the notion that it must necessarily be due to bribery. It certainly might be, but it could just as easily be complacency and indifference from Richmond councillors for the whole purpose of the ALR itself. It’s been around a long time. The urgency and contentiousness over its adoption are long-forgotten. It’s easy to forget why it’s there in the first place and what its value is.
    The McMansion loophole clearly needs to be closed. And if there’s evidence that development applications are being approved quid pro quo some personal pocket money (and not legal campaign contributions), then that is a neat little case for prosecutors. But if they’re being approved with a shrug because at present they’re technically legal and staff – taking cues from council – doesn’t see the value in preserving their patch of the ALR, then that is a far bigger problem.

  2. I hope the provincial government acts quickly to close this loophole, while we still have some ALR land to protect.

  3. A few weeks ago I filled out a survey on the ALR / ALC which presumably went to the Ministry of Agriculture. The survey, which Sandy kindly posted on this site, contained several questions that were preoccupied with this issue, and in a positive and seemingly effective way. I certainly hope that the government is working away on new policies and will release them soon.

    The previous provincial government received tens of thousands in donations from wealthy overseas developers and therein was “paid” to do nothing about affordability or the chipping away of the ALR. Christy Clark’s 15% foreign buyer’s tax was too little too late and followed years of inaction, and I believe that was one of the primary catalysts of the affordability crisis.

    By comparison the NDP government has enacted several new policies and taxes on housing within their first year, and being the mothers and fathers of the original ALR, I don’t see any reason why they would stall on legislatively correcting the erosion of farmland by egregious violations of its original intent.

    They may also need to adjust the Municipal Act and re-empower a new ALC with beefier laws, greater independence from lobbyists and governments, and a new mandate to evaluate and enforce development proposals based stricter agricultural analysis, and possibly a new farming licensing function. I am aware of some proposals before municipalities (Richmond is not the only one) that are comically weak in their agricultural intent with oversized and suspiciously residential-looking farm outbuildings — to the point of hiring unprofessional agronomists to write highly flawed reports that bend the rules to support the development — that are obviously designed to be quietly sold offshore to capture the ALR tax benefits, and where farming could mysteriously disappear within a year or two. Enter a new ALC inspection service with the power to cancel licenses and seize assets to make up the differential between the favourable tax rates in agriculture zones and taxes on the uses actually performed.

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