Time to  close the barn door on illicit mansion cropping in the City of Richmond. The  previous Council’s majority was bullish on developing the supposedly protected farmlands in their jurisdiction with Beverly Hills sizes of mansions, doubling to 11,000 the Provincially  allowable square footage to build these on protected agricultural lands.  Those councillors took advantage of  legislative loopholes that allowed municipalities discretion to create larger houses for “farmers”.

You can be sure that none of the McMansions created will ever return to farmer ownership as most are owned offshore in numbered companies  and have made their developers and owners tremendous land lifts in this loopholed  residential upzoning of supposedly protected Class 1 farmland.

Those councillors responsible for allowing McMansion cropping on the best farmland in Canada  should be named-Chak Au, Linda McPhail, Bill McNulty, Alexa Loo, Derek Dang  and Ken Johnston.  Mr. Johnston and Mr. Dang lost their seats in the October municipal elections when two new councillors that understood the importance of farmland to the future of the region were elected. Kelly Green and Michael Wolfe joined seasoned  Councillors Harold Steves and Carol Day  and returning Mayor Malcolm Brodie in doing the right thing, and capping the square footage of housing allowed on  Richmond agricultural lands.

After the Province’s edict that they were stopping municipalities deciding how  massive a mansion could be on farmland, it was no surprise (as reported in the Richmond News ) that a more contrite Council voted unanimously to limit homes on agricultural land as per the Provincially recommended standard. The motion was made by farmer and founder of the Agricultural Land Reserve Harold Steves, limiting houses to 500 square meters (approximately 5300 square feet) and the associated property exclusively  for use of  the house to 1,000 square meters (approximately 10,700 square feet).

Lana Popham the Minister of Agriculture did not hold back on the McMansioning of the City of Richmond’s farmland.  She reminded reporters “Last year, the public learned about a farm in Richmond that was assessed at $85,000 and then it was sold for $9.2 million, more than a hundred times its value assessed for farm use.”

Ms. Popham also suggested the inaction of the  previous Provincial Liberal government was also to blame, stating “The old government let wealthy speculators drive the price of farmland out of reach for young farmers and allowed some of our most valuable agricultural land to be damaged.” 

Meanwhile 61 applications for McMansions are sadly proceeding in Richmond. And very strangely one of the Councillors consistently voting  on large  McMansioning of  the best farmland in Canada developed a different spin  in an interview with the Globe and Mail.

Councillor Bill McNulty actually fingerpointed that it was the provincial NDP government’s fault Richmond farmland is peppered with gated huge estates.  Mr. McNulty went on record saying ” This is a provincial thing, the Agricultural Land Commission, the agricultural land bank. It’s the province’s responsibility. For too long, they expected the cities and municipalities to deal with this issue … so the fact they’re looking at it is a good thing.” 

It is a pretty remarkable spin. The truth? Municipalities were given discretion from the Province to allow for larger farmhouses if it was clearly for agricultural purposes. That turned out to be a loophole for Councils to approve building  large foreign-owned estates without the foreign buyers’ tax, never to return to farming for future generations. The fingerpointing needs to be squarely back at those six Richmond councillors including Mr. McNulty  that decided that the future of farming and food security was not as important as short-term developer profit cropping McMansions.

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Comments

  1. I was at Tuesday’s Richmond council meetings and spoke, welcoming the change that council was about to pass. As I pointed out, though, Richmond staff had calculated the limit for ALR farmland house size in Richmond that would divert residential construction from the ALR back to residential neighbourhoods, in keeping with the rationale in the provincial guideline. That limit would be 303 square metres, not the limit of 500 square metres (approved by council on Tuesday) that has always been the provincial guideline’s upper cutoff point in calculations of particular local limits (needed for some municipalities but not applicable to Richmond). So what we’re celebrating is simply significant progress toward the solution. On another aspect, the comments about Coun. Bill McNulty are right except for being too kind.

    1. Agreed. Richmond Council always had the ability to act on this but chose not to. To pitch blame to the province and a government that’s been in for a 18 months because ‘they control ALR’s’ is the sort of thing a child would do. Well, that approach seems to have gotten him this far.

      1. Actually, it is worse than that. Richmond city council did decide to act on it by allowing homes twice as large as was recommended by staff and the ALR Land Commission and also allowing a secondary home. Fortunately, some of those who voted in favour got turfed. With this recent vote even those who voted in favour of the previous motion saw the wisdom of voting in favour of limiting the size. I know that Harold Steves (and many others) has put his heart and soul into protecting ALR lands. Without these efforts, we would have lost a lot more valuable farm land that we already have.

    2. At a council meeting on Tuesday, Richmond Council actually took action to reduce the maximum size for house construction on ALR land in Richmond further, this time to about 400 square metres, which will make a huge difference for protecting farmland. The key was that Councillor Chak Au, who had drifted away from his previous conservationist leaning, recognized that the 500 square metre was too lukewarm and made the key motion for the limit that is more likely to reduce the loss of farmland for residential construction. The Richmond News story about this is at https://bit.ly/2OJmVwR .

  2. Aside from the very positive news this week, there is a slight inaccuracy in this article that makes good sensational copy but fails to reveal that many of the landowners of these oversized homes are in fact not just foreign investors ( who knew a good deal when they were offered one by many in the previous council) but are part-time farmers, local people who saw a way to bump up the land value on their fields (fallow or not), so they could also cash in when the time was right. They are likely still there in the background lobbying against the province-wide bill. So anyone reading this can still write to the premier and Ag Minister to not falter:

    Premier@gov.bc.ca
    AGR.Minister@gov.bc.ca
    andrew.weaver.mla@leg.bc.ca

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