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.