Business & Economy
April 10, 2018

Trying to Save the Best Farmland in Canada from Richmond City Council


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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Richmond: east side of 5700-block, No. 3 Road:

 
West side of the street:

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Since 2003, the City of Richmond’s Lulu Series: Art in the City program has presented international, national and regional speakers including acclaimed artists, architects, urban planners and other cultural leaders.

MICHAEL HENDERSON // HCMA ARCHITECTURE + DESIGN
SOCIAL IMPACT THROUGH DESIGN: HOW CURIOSITY TRANSFORMED OUR PRACTICE
Thursday, March 15
7:00 pm | Richmond City Hall
Free. RSVP to lulu@richmond.ca

 

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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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From the Richmond News bike rider Geordie McGillivray asks:
” I wish I could pay ICBC to insure my bike to ride on public roads. Every time someone says “If cyclists wants to be allowed to ride on the roads and have the same privileges as cars, they should have to have insurance” I tell them they are absolutely right. What? A cyclist saying yes, he should have to insure his bike? But I’m being serious. Please, let me pay to insure my bike, but with one condition: It must give me the same insurance benefits as a motorist.”
Currently, if I’m riding my bike on the road and hit a large pothole, lose control of the bike and crash injuring myself and damaging my bike, I am responsible for 100 per cent of the costs. Up to $3000 for a new bike and then paying for all rehabilitation costs. A motorcyclist who hits that pothole, crashes and gets injured will pay a $300 deductible and every other cost is paid for by ICBC. Win: Insured Motorist.
Currently, if my bike is locked up but stolen then I’m responsible for the entire cost of replacing my bike for $3000. If a motorcycle or scooter is stolen while insured then ICBC pays for the entire cost of a replacement. Win: Insured Motorist.
Currently, if I’m negligent and I crash into a car on the road, break my wheel and bars and damage the car, not only am I responsible for all the costs to repair my bike, let’s say $1000 in this case, but I then have to work with ICBC as well as police if they were called, and settle the repair costs to the vehicle. $2500 out of my pocket instead of a $300 deductible. Lose: Uninsured Cyclist.
Currently, if another cyclist runs into me, damaging my bike – but then that person rides away from the scene, I’m responsible for the full costs of the repair or replacement of my bike. Up to $3000. If a cyclist hits a car, damages it and then rides away then the motorist only has to pay a $300 deductible. Win: Insured Motorist.
How could I not want insurance like motorists have? Cyclists would then be saving thousands of dollars and passing it on to ICBC just like motorists do. ICBC would be paying out millions more every year in bike replacement and repair costs. I’d be so happy because just like motorists, I would rarely be out-of-pocket whether an accident is my fault or not. Then, we could cue all the complaints from people now saying cyclists should not be allowed to have insurance on their bikes. I’m sure of it.”
Photos: Richmond News

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Since September 23, four pedestrians have died on Richmond Streets. The Richmond News has now posted a very troubling YouTube video of drivers in  Richmond going through intersections when the lights were clearly red.
Of course no one who is a motorist or a vulnerable road user wants to think that this is actually happening. As one person commented on the video said “The 3 cars running the light are likely the RCMP’s Special O unit located in Richmond. It’s an elite undercover police unit that are involved in surveillance. Look how all three cars approach the intersection, angle to the right, then proceed after crossing at a very high speed. They are clearly in control of their vehicles, not some bad driver who isn’t paying attention. It’s clear these people were trying to get somewhere very quickly, whoever they were.”
The video shows four vehicles going through red lights in the east Cambie neighbourhood on January 31 at 9:30 in the morning. This activity happened within a ten minute time span. As the Richmond News asks, “Were the vehicles’ drivers together and in a coordinated hurry to get somewhere or evade someone? Or were the last two drivers simply, obliviously following the lead of the Toyota?”
Update from a commenter: The Vancouver Sun has a story that some of the drivers were police officers.
Unfortunately that  still does not address the crash rate or the number of  pedestrian fatalities in Richmond, which is approaching one death a month since September 2017.

 

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As reported in the Richmond News seniors who receive Old Age Security and Canada Pension Plan benefits of  $586 and $866 a month respectively are still unable to pay the cost of a bachelor apartment rental in Richmond.The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation statistics show that in 10 years a one bedroom rental unit in Richmond has risen 44 per cent to $1,185 a month.
Few people who have worked all their lives come forward to say they are living below the poverty line. But Judy Lyk, a retired social worker has. A single mother of three was unable to save for retirement and also had financial problems that led to a bankruptcy.  The lack of affordable adequate housing is what Richmond’s  Chimo Community Services calls a “significant contributor to domestic crisis situations.” Ms Lyk was found living in a community shelter and represents the expanding realm of homelessness. One of the first occupants of a 129 unit subsidized rental building, Ms. Lyk is left with $250 a month for food and sundries as the rent even with a subsidy for the small bachelor apartment is $880.
Diane Sugars the executive director of Chimo community services observes “People have this idea of a person with addiction, or a man sitting in a doorway. It’s not that; it’s changed. It’s seniors, yes, but it’s also families who are faced with the inability to meet their rent. If they’re evicted, they struggle to find a place with affordable rent.” While an additional 130 subsidized units have been built annually in Richmond, more subsidized rental units are needed especially for families and seniors who “fall off the ladder” in a tight housing market.

 

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Thirty-five years ago before there was an internet, a remarkable thing happened on Galiano Island. The island is located a 55 minute ferry ride from the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, and you do need to take a ferry on and off the island. A truck of beer, wine and spirits had arrived the night before for the designated British Columbia liquor store. The next day the alcohol-all of it- was gone from the back of the sealed truck.  Locals assumed that someone had a very fine root cellar full of the booty, and suspiciously looked at the spirits being served at local parties for many years.
Another curious theft of alcohol has been reported in the Delta Optimist where a trailer full of Coors Light beer in Delta was burgled by a red semi-truck in the morning of January 20th. Since there was GPS tracking aboard, it is known that the trailer was driven to the 8000 block of Blundell Road in Richmond. When discovered the next day in Richmond, 2,592 cases of  Coors Light were missing from the trailer, which had a retail value of $155,000.  That means there are 67,184 cans of beer on the loose, a huge number to secret away.
Twitter of course went wild, stating that no self-respecting Vancouverite would be drinking these watered down suds, and another suggesting perhaps the robbers were just looking for empty beer cans for the deposit.  But despite the banter, Canadians do drink a lot of beer and the Toronto Star notes that Budweiser is the top beer in Canada with Coors Light being the top light lager.
If you do notice 2,500 cases of Coors Light, or see some unusual activity regarding someone selling a whole lot of this product, please contact the Delta Police or Crimestoppers.

 

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If anyone ever doubted that farmland was being usurped and transferred into private gated estate cash cows, this story in the Richmond News outlines exactly why we need to be concerned and why we need to address this right now.
Imagine a “shell company”~that is a group of people who do not need to disclose their identities~purchasing a 26.6 acre piece of Richmond farmland. They then build a home on the property getting their development permit in early 2017 when Richmond City Council nixed the idea of limiting the size of  houses built on Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR)  properties to 7,500 square feet, allowing much larger mansions of 11,000 square feet to be built. The house and land  located at 11400 No. 2 Road  had an assessed value of $88,000. This year with the mansion not yet completed the same property has an assessed value of 8.3 million dollars. You can be sure that this property will never be returned to farm use. 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.
Two Richmond councillors, Carol Day and Harold Steves voted against the larger square foot size for these properties. Mr. Steves has stated that agricultural land in Metro Vancouver is under “the worse threat it has ever been due to speculation, since the Agricultural Land Reserve was created in 1973.”  Mr. Steves is also one of the people who was involved in the initial  set up the Agricultural Land Reserve.
“Transparency International, a non-government organization, has reported how Metro Vancouver real estate is a prime target for speculation due to Canada’s weak laws surrounding beneficial ownership via numbered companies. The home at 11400 No. 2 Road is still under construction. According to BC Assessment, once it is complete, it will be among the top-10 most-expensive properties in Richmond. BC Assessment also delisted the property from farm class.”
So while the new owners will now pay for the land as if it is non agricultural, their property lift from $88,000 to $8.3 million dollars will soften that blow. And here is one more example of how the lax response of a city council and the  lack of Provincial regulation eats away at one of the most important things we can pass onto future generations~the most arable lands in Canada for food security.
The YouTube video below shows MLA Andrew Weaver introducing a Farm Watch Richmond petition in the  Provincial Legislature asking for stricter regulation of farmland.

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Vicki Huntington needs no introduction to the people living in Delta. Ms. Huntington was the former MLA for Delta South and has an outstanding  background of public service.  Among her many accomplishments she has been a band manager for the Gitanmaax First Nation in Hazelton, worked with the RCMP in their security services, and consulted with  ministers of the Crown in Ottawa. She also served five terms as a Councillor in the City of Delta and two terms as the MLA.  She believes strongly in maintaining farmland for future generations and has been recognized for her strong commitment to farming and nature.
Vicki did not run in the last Provincial election for her independent seat~had she run as an independent, she would have been part of the balance of power in the Provincial government coalition. Instead, Delta Councillor Ian Paton of the Liberals won that seat, and currently double dips between sitting on Delta Council (he is paid $62,000 a year plus his expenses) as well as sitting as an MLA where he makes an additional $106,000 plus. Mr. Paton was named newsmaker of the year  by the Delta Optimist, not for double dipping and denying Delta of a more independent voice on Council, but  because he became  a member of the Provincial legislature.  Mr. Paton claims to want the farmer’s best interest but has been unwavering in the support of a multi-billion dollar ten lane bridge which will industrialize the Fraser River, create congestion on either side of the bridge, and purportedly bring more industry to Delta.
What a shame that the Delta Optimist did not recognize Ms Huntington who was the first independent MLA in over sixty years, and the first to be re-elected. However Ms. Huntington has been appointed to the new committee reviewing the Agricultural Land Commission and Agricultural Land Reserve along with eight other members. Their mission is to provide  “strategic advice, policy guidance and recommendations on how to help revitalize the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission to ensure the provincial goals of preserving agricultural land and encouraging farming and ranching continue to be a priority.”
There is no doubt that the Agricultural Land Reserve is essential to the health and food security of British Columbia and must be maintained for future generations. Price Tags Vancouver has already written about the City of Delta carving out ten acres of farmland for a “truck staging area” for port bound trucks, and how the Port of Vancouver has another  81 acres of farmland in Richmond to add to their 1,457 hectares currently in “industrial use”. It’s a huge problem~should the Port be allowed to take the most arable farmland in Canada to use for truck and container parking and portage? How can farmers be compensated and continue farming when they can garner economic windfalls from development through port expansion or pseudo “farm estates” to well-heeled buyers?
This new Agricultural Land Commission review  committee will seek opinions and feedback and hold meetings with  farming and ranching communities. Recommendations could include changes to the way the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission is set up, regulated and administered. This review is badly needed to ensure that agricultural land is reserved for future populations, and to stop speculators buying up farmland for other purposes. The current MLA for Delta South Mr. Paton is already naysaying the committee appointments,  suggesting that maintaining land in agricultural use restrains the rights of farmers to get extra income from their land. But farmers and speculators did buy that agricultural land  ostensibly for agricultural purposes, and for the future of the region, we must ensure that this agricultural land, the very best in Canada, remains for future generations.

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You may have been  following the story of the Richmond residents living in Steveston that found out that the closed back lane in their back yards was going to be opened and become a functioning lane. When these properties were purchased, the easement for the City’s lane was clearly on the title, but was not being acted upon, allowing residents to use that space for their own green spaces. The City of Richmond indicated that the back lanes would only be constructed when lane dedication and associated access were required for sewer or other such infrastructure replacement.
As reported in the Richmond News, Richmond has 45 kilometers of open and unopened lanes. Approximately 85 per cent of the lanes are constructed across the city, although in Steveston only 40 per cent are open and functioning. The City has easements of about ten feet on the back of properties, and when the lanes are constructed the actual lane width is about twenty feet.
Back lanes are an unusual feature in Metro Vancouver municipalities and are well-loved by movie sets. They were originally designed to be service lanes for services such as garbage removal. In the City of Vancouver lane “improvements” mean paving over the back lane provided which sustainably seems at odds for reducing off gassing, permeability and speed, and does contribute to flooding of adjoining properties. It was Sharole Tylor in Mountainview Neighbourhood in Vancouver that convinced the City of Vancouver to try something different other than the so-called improvement of the “paved lane”. By installing two concrete driving strips, using a permeable geoblock with structural soil, engineer  David Desrochers created a new demonstration of a new lane that also became a popular public space useable in a community that was park deficient.  As the National Post reports, even though three of these demonstration “country” lanes were installed, they were never costed out correctly for their sustainable benefits, and were dismissed by the then new Vision civic leadership in favour of more “green” paving techniques.
But perhaps the timing of the rebirth of a sustainable country lane is more appropriate now with clear concerns about  how to create usable parklike space, to manage flooding, and off gassing, and  to encourage more sustainable practices. The City of Richmond perhaps learning from the City of Vancouver’s lack of sustainable followup   is offering several options for the new laneway, including paving, the use of green filtration swales, or a country lane. There are open houses at the Steveston Community Centre on January 10 and January 17 and more information that will be available on the LetsTalkRichmond.ca site in early January.
 
There is also an  old YouTube Video of the first Country Lane in Vancouver that can be viewed at this link.

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