Governance & Politics
December 17, 2018

Richmond Gets Serious about Finally Downsizing Farmland McMansions

Meanwhile back in Richmond it is no surprise that there is pushback from people owning farm property about Richmond’s proposed  restrictions of limiting the amount of area that houses can be built on, and how big those houses can be.  I have been writing about the fact that the City of Richmond previous council allowed for houses of almost 11,000 square feet to be built on the best agricultural lands in Canada, with additional houses of 3,200 square feet on the same property for the “help”.

Despite the fact that these properties are protected by the Province’s  Agricultural Land Reserve, the City of Richmond council participated in enabling these properties to leave their agricultural designation at agricultural land prices, and be developed and sold as private gated estates to offshore buyers. Those buyers  escaped the foreign buyers’ tax, and were able to keep the taxing on their property to agricultural rates by raising a crop or a cow.

Some of these properties have houses in the 17,000 square foot range. This is way beyond the 5,382 square foot  (500 square meters) house mandated by the Province for agricultural lands, to ensure that these properties would remain in agriculture and be accessible to future farmers.

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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.

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Tuesday November 6 is a the mid-term election day in the USA but it is also a big day for the City of Richmond too, where the inaugural meeting of the new City Council will include looking at  residential development on agricultural land. 

And it’s not only Richmond under siege with mansion growing~it’s happening in California wine country too.

The last City of Richmond Council has been complicit in allowing the best agricultural lands in Canada supposedly protected under  the Agricultural Land Commission  to become private gated offshore owned estates.

The previous Council against the advice of their own staff endorsed the building of nearly 11,000 square foot mcmansions on farming lands.  That Council also allowed larger farm properties to not only have a huge house, but an additional 3,200 square foot house for the “help”.

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There are big changes happening in the City of Richmond where the eight Council incumbents all ran again for office. With 200,000 residents, the Vancouver Sun reported that two new council candidates supportive of farmland for farmers won election,  while “incumbents Derek Dang and Ken Johnston went down to defeat”. 

New city councillors Kelly Green who campaigned to reduce the mansioning of the best farmland in Canada, and Michael Wolfe who is on the board of the Garden City Conservation Society joined returning councillors  Carol Day, farmer and environmentalist Harold Steves and re-elected Mayor Malcolm Brodie. Finally Richmond Council has a majority of people concerned about future food security and ensuring that these top arable lands that are close to a large market are maintained for locals.

They will garner enough Council clout to revisit the unfortunate decision made by re-elected Councillors  Chak Au, Bill McNulty, Linda McPhail and Alexa Loo to open the barn door for agricultural land to go through supernormal landlifts as a quick get rich real estate property flip.

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Back to the City of Richmond where the majority of City Councillors have been absolutely complicit in the dismantling of the protected Agricultural Land Reserve farmlands which in this municipality are the best farmlands in Canada. Surprisingly there is not a bigger public outcry on how this City Council has failed future food security and the right of farmers to be able to own and access farmland close to market. Meanwhile Richmond City staff are processing 61 applications carving up farmland as approved by this Council for quick developer profit, despite staff’s recommendation to Council that this was a very bad idea.

There is some weirdness in the majority of Council supporting supernormal land lift profits and a series of loopholes for offshore buyers in numbered companies. These “developers” are turning  protected farmland into gated offshore owned estates. This is happening despite the fact that this farmland is designated as part of the Provincial Agricultural Land Reserve set up in the 1970’s.

Price Tags has been documenting the unbelievable usurping of these prime farmlands for gated estates, with mansions of almost 11,000 square feet, while 5,382 square feet is the permitted maximum under the provincial regulation. We’ve also documented that besides approving these monster houses on supposedly protected farmlands, Richmond City Council also rubber stamped an additional house of 3,200 square feet on larger properties for the “help”.

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It is election season and in the City of Richmond the spin has  started. Under the banner “Richmond First” Richmond councillors Dang, McNulty and McPhail who voted for allowing  mega mansions of nearly 11,000 square feet  on the most fertile and important farmland in Canada are campaigning to get back on Richmond Council.

And they have added a weird twist. They are not saying that they have given in to developer pressure and have approved the creation of the tax loopholed  offshore owned gated estates on Class 1 supposedly Provincially protected agricultural lands. Nor are they saying anything about the innovative “get rich quick” scheme of buying land at agricultural land prices and morphing it into exclusive multi-million dollar estates with the associated land lift.  They also have conveniently forgotten  that the Province has mandated that the maximum size of houses on farmland is  5,832 square feet, specifically to stop speculation.

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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.

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There’s a farmland travesty occurring in Richmond where city council has been influenced to approve mansions of 10,700 square feet on farmland over one half an acre, and on larger parcels, an additional house of 3,200 square feet for the “help”.

This is all a shell game in more than one sense. The pro-development Richmond Farmland Owner’s Association (you will note that is farmland owners, not farmers) has organized a $ummer Barbeque (yes they use the $ sign for the “S”) to raise money for the six councillors who were complicit in the McMansioning of City of Richmond farmland, ignoring the cap established by the province for houses on agricultural land (previously 5,382 square feet).

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Richmond’s vintage Lansdowne Centre Mall, age 41, is getting a facelift, but maybe not the type you’d assume for its location — smack dab in the middle of a downtown not typically known for its active transportation facilities, or lifestyle.

But it’s true: for this future development, cars are out; transit is in. Even bikes feature in the planning docs and related literature. For residents and visitors alike, this is big.

As usual, click an image to see a larger version.

A few thoughts come to mind.

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Surprise — this October’s civic election in British Columbia will be no less gripping for those outside of the Vancouver echo chamber.

In the City of Richmond, and perhaps Delta too, citizens will directly decide on the city’s future as it relates to values around agricultural land protection, food security, and pushing back against deep-pocketed development.

The roots of the fight to come go way back; early European settlements used Lulu island (so named in 1862) for farming and fishing. It’s a big reason why Richmond got the name ‘the Garden City’. Farming is still important to Richmond today; Harold Steves, a longstanding Councillor for the City of Richmond, is also a farmer, and his family’s roots in Richmond date back to the early farming settlements of this place.

His family is why we have a village named Steveston, and Clr. Steves is one of the people for whom we have to thank for the Agricultural Land Reserve, established in 1973.

He’s also one of the few people in the halls of power fighting for its survival.

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