History & Heritage
September 11, 2020

Urbanist in the Okanagan 3 – Saviour of the Small Towns

Let’s begin in Osoyoos, the southern-most town of the Okanagan:

The shot above was taken on August 27, 2020.

Here’s the equivalent from the lookout on Anarchist Mountain in 1977:

Beautiful BC magazine via BC Archives

Compare urban development in the two shots.  Notice how almost nothing has changed except some development on the middle right along the lakefront, a large white complex in the lower centre and what is probably an industrial strip in the upper left.

In a world where values rise when land is flat, easily serviced, near major roads and close to an urban core, how can this be?  Especially in the Okanagan, where the liaison between real-estate interests and local politicians has been, shall we say, often intimate.

The answer is the yellow line in the map below:

Water Science Series, BC Government

The line, almost block by block, is the boundary of the Agricultural Land Reserve, originally established in the early 1970s.  (To considerable opposition by many who owned the land within it.)

In an economy based on tourism and retirement, it’s extraordinary that there is anything green between the white municipal boundary and the yellow ALR.  Today, that economy of wine and fruit and tourism based on the appeal of a natural landscape was made possible by the vision of the NDP government in 1972 to establish the ALR (which paid for it in the loss of 1975) and the reluctance of successive Social Credit and Liberal governments to pay the political price to undo it.  (Not that there haven’t been nibbles of alienation – like golf courses as illustrated in the above report – but there hasn’t been huge bites of removal.)

Osoyoos may be a particularly graphic example of the juxtaposition of urban and agicultural, where vineyards come with a kilometre of the city centre.  But the same is true for much of the Okanagan (and arguably even Vancouver, hello Southlands), with one particularly egregious counter-example.  We’ll get there soon.

 

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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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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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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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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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