Province to limit house sizes on farmland

B.C.'s agriculture minister needs to make scope of rules clear, as they come just months before municipal elections, says former Delta councillor

The City of Richmond will finally be catching up to Delta but only due to a push from the provincial government.

Richmond has been mired in controversy over mansions being built on farmland and the city’s seeming reluctance to impose tougher regulations to limit their size.

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That’s about to change thanks to the province indicating it will enact one of the recommendations in an interim report from a special committee that limits house sizes within the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The committee reviewing the ALR and Agricultural Land Commission recently submitted its interim report calling for “immediate legislative and regulatory change” and Agriculture Minister Lana Popham has confirmed those changes can be expected this fall.

The report notes that as urban land prices increase and the population grows, the pressure to develop agricultural land continues to build. Farmland is being taken out of production and investors and speculators are being allowed to exploit tax system incentives intended only for those who farm, the report warns.

The report states there are few, if any, limits on the size and scale of houses on farmland which contributes to the perception the ALR is open for development.

Delta is well ahead on the mansion issue, having already passed rules to prevent farms from being used as cheap land for mega homes.

Delta South Liberal MLA Ian Paton said he’s supportive of municipal action to limit the size of homes on agricultural land which should be farmed, not turned into sprawling country estates.

“Our former government initiated the Minister’s Bylaw Standards with regards to farmhouse size and siting, and we are proud of that fact. I am also proud that the City of Delta acted years ago to limit the size of houses on agricultural land and curb speculation,” said Paton, a former Delta councillor.

In 2006, Delta took the lead to prevent speculators and would-be mansion owners from purchasing farmland to build their estates without intention of farming, limiting house sizes and defining a farm "home plate" on agricultural properties.

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.

Richmond council this year, under pressure from landowners, agreed to keep the maximum size at 10,764 square feet, while second homes can be built at 3,229 square feet without rezoning.

Paton noted MLAs have shared their opinion that Richmond meet high standards as well, however, the minister’s plan to overrule a local council is also a slippery slope.

“The agriculture minister needs to immediately clarify to all municipalities whether this will also apply to them as well, also making them aware of other issues they can be expected to be overruled on when she introduces her legislation this fall,” he said.

“If the minister is going to take significant actions that undermine local governance, she needs to be more clear about her plans which are still vague at this point and which will certainly lead to confusion for local candidates, mere months before a municipal election.”

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