Governance & Politics
August 17, 2018

Province Says They Are Going to Stop the Private Estating of Agricultural Lands

Finally — entering the final stretch of a hot, dry summer, the Province of BC’s Minister of Agriculture says she is going to do something about the flagrant misuse of council authority in the City of Richmond.

As The Richmond News reports:

Lana Popham the Minister of Agriculture is now saying it directly~she is closing the barn door  on Richmond’s agricultural land speculators this Fall. Ms. Popham states “Legally limiting house sizes on protected farmland is among 13 recommendations for “immediate legislative and regulatory change. We can expect to see changes coming forward in the fall with regards to that.”

Previously, this council green-lit the development of the best agricultural lands in Canada into exclusive private estates for the very, very rich — many off-shore owned. Of course, these particular land owners receive the unintended additional benefit of a ‘super’ land-lift, as their agriculturally zoned property becomes a McMansioned playground for the well-heeled from elsewhere.

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Finally the Agricultural Land Reserve’s independent committee  has stepped in on the ongoing repurposing of the best agricultural land in Canada to privately owned gated estates, many in numbered companies and owned offshore for multi-millionaire elite.

Richmond City Council is in complicit in this destruction, allowing mansions of almost 11,000 square feet to be built on Class one agricultural land, and also allowing a 3,200 square foot additional house for the “help” on larger properties. Richmond has 61 applications they are now processing as the supposedly protected Class 1 agricultural land is busily carved up for short profit developer gain, exempt from foreign buyer’s tax, and getting property tax breaks by producing a rock bottom minimal “profit” on the land.

On Wednesday, the eight-member group submitted a report to the agricultural minister with 13 recommendations for legislative and regulatory change that would better protect B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). The reserve was set up in 1973 to protect the province’s best farmland from development and now represents about five percent of B.C.’s total landmass. One key recommendation was that the province establish a maximum floor size for all primary residences built on ALR properties, noting the government’s current suggestion of almost 5,400 square feet as a good starting point.

It came up all the time, people felt that it was an abuse of the ALR and increased the levels of speculation on the land,” said committee chair Vicki Huntington, a former independent MLA from Delta South. “They felt that it was detrimental to the preservation of the capacity of the land to be saved for farming, so we felt that it was one of the primary recommendations that we had to make.We’ll see if the government feels that it’s a worthwhile one.”

A Globe and Mail investigation in 2016 looked at the loopholes that has turned farmland into a residential cash cow.  The  Provincial opposition Liberals did themselves no favour by speaking out against the Agricultural Land Reserve, saying that decision-making was being taken away from farmers. That’s too little too late, as the wholesale destruction of the best farmland in Canada has morphed into a get rich quick scheme for exploiting tax loopholes for the super rich, and making multi-million dollar profit for the estate developers. It is time to respond to the wholesale destruction of farmland as if food security and the need for a farming future truly was important.

 

 

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After the majority of council in the City of Richmond busily carved up the best agricultural land in Canada — in their jurisdiction, sadly — the Minister of Agriculture is finally ready to step in.

As reported by the National Observer, the days of exploiting loopholes in Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) legislation may well be over; the ALR is all about protecting the best arable lands in Canada, and so the Province of British Columbia stated publicly that this land should be, well, exclusively farmland.

With the McMansioning of Class 1 agricultural land at epidemic level in Richmond, the Observer spoke to Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham about this central idea, and the reality that this is happening in other areas in the province too. Her response is telling.

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Thank goodness there’s someone in Victoria taking stock of the snuffing out of farm land in Richmond by council. (In case you somehow missed coverage of this issue in Price Tags, here’s a link to past posts.)
Andrew Weaver of the Green Party minced no words in casting aspersions on Richmond council’s decision, calling on the provincial government to take immediate action to stymie speculation and rampant development of gated estates on Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) land.

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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.

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Hard to believe, but the story of BC’s provincially-designated Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) being eaten up for real estate development profits is not a new story.
Today, the councillors in the City of Richmond (with the exception of Mayor Brodie, Councillor Steves and Councillor Day) are expected to continue the dizzying trend of getting multi-million dollar land lifts by creating private, gated estates out of the richest farmland in Canada. In doing so, this Council — bullish on doing the right thing for developers seeking profits — are betraying the ALR, which was set up in the 1970’s to guarantee future food security, not to mention farmers’ access to high quality, arable lands.
The Globe and Mail’s Kathy Tomlinson covered this story in November 2016, and updated it last year. City councils elsewhere in Metro Vancouver have been allowing the carving up of farmland for real estate profit, and turning a blind eye to the practice.

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Price Tags has been writing about the carving off of farmland to accommodate other uses seen as more immediate in Metro Vancouver.
Last Friday the Agricultural Land Commission that oversees the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) nixed the City of Abbotsford’s “Abbotsfwd” request for 200 hectares of farmland to go into “future industrial growth”. There was also a request in Langley Township to allow other uses on two blocks of farm land in Bradner. The Commission nixed that too.

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In the City of Richmond, British Columbia, where the most arable soils in Canada are supposedly protected under the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), City Council continues to allow speculators to build houses of over 10,000 square feet on agricultural land over half an acre in size.
These mansions become exclusive gated estates, avoiding the foreign buyers tax, and are now trading at prices no farmer can afford. Delta is no better, using fertile arable land for a truck parking lot next to Highway 17, fast-tracking a casino next to the Fraser River, and using ALR lands as their industrial land piggy bank.
But it’s not just in British Columbia where politicians are fraying away agricultural land for their own in-the-moment development purposes.

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Price Tags has been reporting on the devastating losses of arable Class 1 farmland in Metro Vancouver to gated private estates for the rich.
Only 0.5 percent of all of Canada’s land is considered Class 1 farmland; all of the City of Richmond’s agricultural land are in this class. These soils can grow a multitude of vegetables and provide future food security to unborn generations of people in this region. Places like Abbotsford and their Abbotsfwd Plan aim to cleave off Class 1 farmland for industrial purposes. The City of Richmond doggedly continues to allow mansions of 11,000 square feet on agricultural land, allowing developers to turn these valuable soils into private gated multi-million dollar playgrounds.
Indeed there are 61 proposals that Richmond City Council will consider to further eat up this land. It’s all about profit, not about preserving a valuable resource.

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This story illustrates the problem of expectations when existing regulations are not enough to achieve a higher purpose, like protecting farmland. In Richmond B.C. the City Council has not been proactive in protecting some of the most arable farmland in Canada from becoming private foreign-owned estates, with mansion sized housing and subsequent property assessments so high that the land will never be owned by farmers again.  There was an outcry in the City of Richmond over the size of  the houses being placed on farmland and being taken out of farming and turned into private estates.  In May 2017 Council moved that house size would be capped to 10,763 square feet on lots that were larger than half an acre. The Provincial regulations for the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR)  says that houses on these larger lots  should be no larger than 5,382 square feet, half of the size.
Price Tags Vancouver has written several times about these ALR properties in Richmond which can be purchased without the 20 per cent foreign buyers tax and can also pay lower agricultural property taxes if a minimal farming crop or livestock are raised on the land. We also covered the story of a shell company that purchased a 26 acre piece of farmland in 2014 for $88,000 in Richmond. Now that the property has  a half built mansion on it, with a 2017 assessed property value of  $8.3 million. As  Richmond Farm Watch  and Richmond resident Laura Gillanders observes  “One by one each of these farms is being taken out of production and making sure it is never farmed by a farmer who can live on that land. It goes to show these mansions are not being built for farming.” You can take a look on the Farm Watch site at the “Visuals” section documenting the before and after photos and films of these properties taken out of agricultural production and made into mansioned estates.
As the Richmond News reports it is no surprise that a group called  The Richmond Farmland Owners Association “has launched a campaign and online petition to protect farmers’ property rights and land value.” You can hardly blame them.  They want the current mansion sized dwelling to now remain as the status quo, seeing a reduction in house size as an impediment to property value. Some argue that the large houses are small compared to the land around them. Council does allow for larger square foot houses when it is for larger extended family groups.
There is a Change.org petition which can be viewed here where the Richmond Farmland Owners Association  says that Richmond is infringing on property rights, and that these rights will be taken away if house sizes are reduced . Meanwhile the group Richmond FarmWatch wants the City of Richmond to follow the provincial guidelines for land in the ALR, and are planning a  public rally is to be held at Richmond City Hall Monday, Feb. 26 at 6:30 p.m. and you can see a copy of the petition put out by the Richmond Citizens Association here.
The last word goes to land economist  Richard Wozny with Site Economics who  passed away earlier this month . Wozny’s analysis indicated that a house of 4,200 square feet was in line with farm land values, half the size of the currently approved 10,763 square feet for agricultural land over half an acre.
There  is a YouTube video below from March 2017 showing the size of “farm” houses being constructed on agricultural land in Richmond.

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