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.
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.
The super-rich can also build said mansions up to almost 11,000 square feet, thanks to Richmond’s Council’s previously demonstrated inability to accept the Agricultural Land Reserve’s recommendation for 5,382 square-foot dwellings built on farming properties. Even better, Richmond Council approved a further 3,200 square foot dwelling on large properties for the “help”.
Even Richmond City staff supported the Provincial recommendation of 5,382 square-foot dwellings, and quoted the late economist Richard Wozny’s analysis that showed that any square footage over this amount would warp farmland prices. But no — six Richmond councillors decided that really really big mansions were still needed, and that it was “too late” to save the best farmland in Canada.
And of course, there was so much more to this story of entitlement — the lack of a foreign buyer’s tax on this Class 1 farmland. With a nominal investment of a few thousand dollars of crops or livestock, any estate could apply for the agricultural use tax bracket. It really is, or was, the perfect scam.
Last year, the Province created an advisory committee to look at what changes should be made to the Agricultural Land Commission. A survey undertaken by the advisory committee received over 2,200 responses, with 79 per cent saying that regulation of residential uses on farmland was absolutely required. This commission was chaired by the former MLA for south Delta, the much-loved Vicki Huntington. Typical of a sadly positional approach, rookie Liberal MLA Ian Paton, who took over Ms. Huntington’s Independent seat in the legislature, whackily nit-picked at the report, saying it took consultation away from local farmers. It is all a little too close, as Mr. Paton’s father was once chair of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).
However, the committee ultimately recommended the ALC instead remove authority over ALR land from Richmond City Council, who were otherwise voting on the orderly approval and processing of 61 applications to turn farmland into cash developer cows. This is, therefore, a satisfying reversal for a troubling year of threats to farmland and food security, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
While Richmond, which calls itself “The Garden City”, has been particularly complicit in shunning the regulations to create short-term developer profit, other municipalities are just as culpable for the abuse of Provincially-protected farmlands. What do mayors and councillors representing Metro Vancouver residents stand for — regional food security and the interests of future farmers, or short-term favour of the developers’ lobby?
It really is time for a much more prudent stewardship approach to local farmland, which was built over thousands of years from the Fraser River alluvial deposits, and can provide a full range of vegetables and crops for local markets.
It’s time to think not only of current developer profit but the present state and future viability of our agricultural sector, as if future generations and how they will live — and eat — in this region truly depends on it.