There’s no way to sugar coat what has been happening in the City of Richmond with the majority of their elected council.

Council members have been complicit in ponying up with the “get rich quick” segment of farmland owners who know their land would be worth more if it was not, well, agricultural.

Jack Trovato, who is running for council with the Richmond Citizens’ Association, is now calling for a change to the rules of the game, one that would pull down one of the curtains hiding any actual conflicts of interest.

Recently, Richmond City Council – with Mayor Brodie, Councillor Day, and Councillor Steves opposed – voted to allow scandalously large houses on farmland, thereby facilitating speculators who seek to take advantage of our farmland at the expense of our local food security. The beneficiaries of this bylaw also contribute to the election campaign accounts of the councillors who voted for speculator–friendly farmland luxury estates.

Some of our councillors are property developers, or have close ties with property developers, speculators, real estate companies, and wealthy landowners. The results have been damaging and devastating to each of us in the community… These repercussions are far-reaching and impact each of us to some degree. They compromise the integrity of our community and make our once-beloved homes a burden due to increased costs and uncertainties.

The Community Charter, which falls under the auspices of the BC provincial government, regulates the City of Richmond; therefore, we will petition the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) to request that the BC government amend the Conflict of Interest Rules and implements a Lobbyist Registry in each municipal jurisdiction.

Amending the rules would ensure that Councillors disclose business interests, and be subject to oversight of an independent officer. A lobbyist registry would also be created for lobbyists to declare details of their activities on an accessible on-line registry.

As Trovato asserts, vast tracts of land in Richmond are collectively in the common interest, and not just to Richmond residents. ALR land is Class 1 agricultural soil, the best in Canada, birthed over thousands of years from alluvial deposits of the Fraser River.

It was supposed to be protected by Agricultural Land Reserve legislation, introduced in 1973 by the Province of British Columbia, and designed to keep farmland in agricultural use. The intent of the  legislation was to keep farmland affordable to farmer and  to actually produce farm crops on that land.

Despite the guidelines produced by the province to ensure that the maximum house size on protected farmlands be 5,382 square feet, the current council majority in the City of Richmond approved mansions of over 10,700 square feet to be built, with a “smaller” house for “the help” of 3,200 square feet on larger lots.

This approval came despite the fact Richmond city staff recommended 5,382 square feet, the maximum established in the ALR.

This has resulted in a plethora of gated off-shore owned private estates on farmland, where owners, often in numbered companies use tax loopholes to pay no foreign buyers’ tax, and to pay lower farmland property tax, garnering millions of dollars in land lift when the former farmland becomes Beverly Hills like estates.

As Trovato concludes, this must stop, and if it takes new rules to enforce actual provincial legislation that is in the public’s best interests, then so be it.

Ultimately, we must remind our elected officials that their job is to serve our interests and not the special interests of their family, friends or donors. The solution is clear – we must demand transparency and uphold the suggestions set forth above. We must come together as a community and bring a new level of integrity to our beautiful city.

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Comments

  1. One hopes the NDP’s new campaign donor rules and limits would now cover municipal elections adequately, at least enough to prevent this type of corruption. If I lived in Richmond Mr. Travato would have my vote.

  2. All this presupposes the only reason Councillors are permitting this is because they’re crooked. I contend it’s just as likely they simply don’t care about the ALR and would approve these estates whether or not they accepted campaign contributions from developers. It’s already no secret who’s voting in favour and who’s not.

  3. The optics are bad for sure. But ALR land is agriculturally restricted land and must still be farmed. The fact that there is a loss of say an additional 8000 sq feet to a larger property is minimal in the context of the density of the size of the lot acreage and area subdivision size.

    The real loss here is the loophole under the Income Tax Act which provides that in cases where land is not subdividable, the entire lot (ie all of the farming acreage) will be part of the principal residence capital gain exemption. In other words the entire lift in property value will be tax free “provided it is ordinarily inhabited”…..

    In any event, this exemption is so frequently abused by offshore sellers who sell, fail to file taxes in a subsequent year and have already left the country.

    I see this as not really a farmland issue but a tax leakage one.

    1. Presumably the Minister of Agriculture is looking into that along with related issues in her redesign of the ALR and ALC.

      The land taken out of production includes not only the basic building footprint but the entire raised pad the houses, garages, outbuildings and outsized driveways sit on, and is often triple or quadruple the interior square footage.

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