As reported in the Richmond News there’s been some surprising setbacks in the City of Richmond’s approach to stop the creation of massive monster houses eating up farmland in the Agricultural Land Reserve within the municipality. In a previous Price Tags we addressed the fact that the City of Richmond was thinking of  “restricting the size of houses built on the ALR (the Agricultural Land Reserve) in that municipality. A couple of things-if you purchase farm land you do not have to pay the 15 per cent foreign owner tax. And if you can crop blueberries or have a calf born on the property you can claim you are a farmer and have the land taxed as agricultural instead of as a large house executive estate.”

Price Tags also noted “A Globe and Mail investigation found wealthy investors bought farmland in Richmond without any intention of farming and took advantage of tax incentives to pay meagre property taxes while, in some cases, operating illegal hotels. The investigation found local and foreign buyers enjoy large tax breaks meant to encourage farming.”

Well things have not gone too well for the Agricultural Land Reserve and some of the most arable lands in Canada within the jurisdiction of the municipality of Richmond. While city staff wanted housing on the ALR to be limited to  5,382 square foot houses, Council has caved into pressure to double that to 10,674 square feet.  That is a very, very very big house.

On Monday May 15 there is a public hearing in Richmond to discuss floor space restrictions. Of course farmland owners are also upset as their properties are worth more with the potential to be big mansion holders. While there was a moratorium put in place until this matter was resolved,  sadly the majority of council has caved into a compromise to double the staff recommended size limit to 10,764 square feet if the land is at least one half an acre in size. Less land-you are at 5,382 square feet.

It’s one for the buyers and builders of this massive housing form, and zero for the entrusted status of  arable farmland. And of course there is that weird counter argument that  “farmers and landowners continued their message that they “shouldn’t be punished” because of rogue developers seeking to build mega mansions on farmland.” It’s all part of the gravy.

Councillor Harold Steves, who was one of the original backers of the Agricultural Land Reserve sensibly called for farmhouses to increase vertically, not horizontally noting that increasing farmland prices for mansions prices land out of reach for farmers. What increasing mansion size on farm land is doing is “jumping the gun above the (neighbouring cities) and this will put pressure on them to increase their sizes” of land in the Agricultural Land Reserve. Every decision is connected.

Allowing large agricultural mansions puts farmers into renters of space, not owners, and not in control of the lands. Applications for farmland mansions have increased, with the average mansion being at 13,000 square feet, with one at 32,660 square feet.

Is this the end of the region as we know it? Do we so devalue our farmland and the chance for sustainable agricultural practice in our region that we will sell out for this not needed housing form that has no benefit to agricultural lands? Monday’s City of Richmond hearing will tell.