Province finally catches up to Delta on farm mansions

Delta has been well ahead of the game when it comes to thwarting efforts to buy up valuable farmland as a cheap place to build mansions.

Among changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve announced this week by the province is legislation for new house size limits. If approved, houses on ALR land would be limited to 5,400 square feet.

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"The old government let wealthy speculators drive the price of farmland out of reach for young farmers and allowed some of our most valuable agricultural land to be damaged,” Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said in a statement.

Delta South MLA Ian Paton, the agriculture critic, told the Optimist the previous Liberal government had already introduced house size guidelines, but said the City of Delta has been well ahead in trying to curb farms from becoming unfarmed luxury estates.

“I’m relatively pleased they’re saying they don’t want mega-mansions on farmland. The problem is, they’re saying they’re eliminating speculation and it has nothing to do with speculation, they’re simply limiting the size of a house,” said Paton, a former Delta city councillor and a farmer.

“Delta has already dealt with this with house size limit. Just like in Delta, it’s also important a house can’t be built right in the middle of farmland, it’s got to be on a corner of a farm, close to the road,” he added.

In 2006, the city set limits to farm home plates on agricultural properties, as well as the size of homes that can be built on them.

The maximum farm house floor area for properties less than eight hectares (20 acres) is 3,552 square feet and for properties eight hectares or greater it’s 5,005 square feet. The maximum area for an additional farmhouse is 1,937 square feet on a lot of less than eight hectares, while it’s 2,507 square feet on a lot of eight hectares or greater.

The amendments proposed by the province also include increased penalties for dumping construction debris or other fill on farmland. Paton points out the city already enacted bylaws to prevent that from happening as well.

On another front, the province’s amendments would also eliminate the two-zone division for the ALR enacted by the previous government. One zone covers the southern region of the province, including Delta, where no changes were made. The other zone covered northern areas where farmers and ranchers would have been given the green light to add other businesses onto their lands to generate additional revenues.

“We have a ton of ranchers and farmers up north that are looking at snow for most of the year that are really ticked off about losing Zone 2, which would give them opportunities to do some value-added businesses on their farms. If you’re farming in California or Mexico or Arizona, you’re probably farming 12 months out of the year. But up in Northern B.C., you’re looking at the snow and the rain for seven months out of the year. If you want to keep these guys in farming, you’ve got to give them some opportunities,” said Paton.

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