Business & Economy
June 6, 2018

Who’s Protecting Farmland in Richmond and Delta? Not Council; Voters to Weigh in Next.

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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Price Tags has been documenting the unfortunate story of the mowing down of provincial farmland ostensibly under provincial protection via the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), developed in 1972, and currently being ignored by municipal councils with highly questionable motives.
The City of Richmond is currently on a tear, looking to approve 61 development applications for 10,700 square foot mansions with 3,200 square foot second houses (for “the help”?); the land is being sold off for cheap, the estates being built are usually gated, and the ownership often offshore. And Richmond isn’t alone in their march to hand off as much of the ALR as they can.
The City of Delta has turned agricultural lands into industrial lands (and even a parking lot for trucks). Abbotsford and Langley also want to carve out agricultural land for industrial and residential uses. The City of Surrey wants to reclassify 235 hectares from rural to a bunch of urban uses, moving urban containment boundaries. And with the spotlight finally being shone on these questionable land deals, a dirty word has also begun to pop up — corruption.

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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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It’s pretty obvious that the houses being built are not farmhouses, but are being built as luxury estates”. 
Price Tags has been documenting the City of Richmond’s refusal to recognize and protect farmland designated as part of the Province of British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).
But first, in case you’ve missed our coverage — and definitely before you skip to the video which, at just over 90 seconds, delivers quite the gut punch — some background.

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If you’ve been following the debacle in the City of Richmond over the provincially-designated Agricultural Land Reserve — and how that land is not being protected for such use — you’ve learned that municipal government can’t always be trusted to put its own, stated interests in food security and access to agricultural land ahead of the interests of a few privileged people.
The influence of developers, as they buy agricultural land cheaply and reap extraordinary profits from the building of mansions and private grounds, has spread like wildfire.

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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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Last week, Simon Fraser University hosted a packed house for another City Conversation panel discussion, this on the topic of “Saving the Best Land in Canada: Crime, Policy and Food Security in the Agricultural Land Reserve”.
City of Richmond Councillor Harold Steves (who is also one of the founders of the Agricultural Land Reserve), community activist Jack Trovato and Anita Georgy of the Richmond Food Security Society described the situation — with only 1% of all farmlands in Canada deemed Class 1 agricultural for growing a wide range of local market vegetables, such land is inarguably valuable for future generations for food security.
All the agricultural lands in Richmond are Class 1, the best in the country.But therein lies the controversy.

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It is very hard to believe that we still need to be reminded about the importance of food security and ensuring that our agricultural land, which in Metro Vancouver is the finest arable land in Canada, is protected for future generations.
Price Tags Vancouver has been tracking the unbelievable story of the City of Richmond Mayor and Council allowing mansions of over 10,783 square feet in size to be built on agricultural land that is over one half-acre in size. These “farms” are being bought at an agricultural land price as they are in the Agricultural Land Reserve, then redeveloped with large mansions and then quickly turn into multi-million dollar gated estates, exempt from the foreign buyer’s tax (they are on agricultural land) with a large land lift as these countrified estates demand top dollar for offshore buyers. These lands will never return to agricultural use and are now economically out of the reach of farming buyers.

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