The City of Richmond’s planning committee will meet on Tuesday to consider solutions to the ongoing problem of increasingly large luxury homes being built on farmland.
City councillors will be reviewing a city staff report, originally published Jan. 10, that suggests adopting one of four proposed bylaw changes that will finally put regulations on these so-called “megahomes.”
“We have to put an end to it, and I guess we’re going to start doing it here in Richmond if we can,” Steves, who is also a farmer, added.
At stake is the potential loss of some of the best farmland in B.C., which falls under the Agricultural Land Reserve. The problem is many of these homes are able to pass themselves off as farms despite not using any of their acreage for farming, avoiding taxes as a result.
Councillors argue a decision needs to be made sooner than later, as developers have been quick to realize that buying up farmland for development is significantly cheaper than city lots, creating another loophole in the midst of the real estate crisis.
“Last I heard, it was about $3-400,000 for an acre…it’s over a million dollars for a single-family lot in Richmond,” Richmond city councillor Linda McPhail said.
The bylaw changes being proposed include limiting home sizes to roughly 5,400 square feet, as well as shrinking the maximum home plate (the area containing the main house and residences for farm workers). Homes would also be required to not exceed a distance of 50 metres from the road to the front door.
The report also suggests limits on spaces intended for farm workers. The bylaw change would allow additional rooms to be built for farm workers only, meaning estates could potentially be built to current, unregulated levels as long as homeowners can prove the space is being used for staff, rather than what Steves suspects is for illegal hotels or short-term rentals.
The staff report suggests that Richmond implementing a bylaw is necessary after repeated calls for the province to implement its own regulations fell on deaf ears.
In 2013, despite repeated calls from Richmond and other Lower Mainland cities to impose more strict, province-wide regulations, the Ministry of Agriculture instead released a set of guidelines for municipalities to use in drafting their own bylaws on farmland home size.
The Richmond report suggests this was a mistake, as “guidelines are unenforceable and may be inconsistently applied.”
Richmond is hardly the first municipality to try and implement stricter regulations on farmland development: Delta, Port Coquitlam and Surrey have already passed such bylaws, despite vocal opposition from developers and the homeowners who hire them.
The City knows it will face similar opposition, but feels the time has come to make a change, if only to protect the rich farmland in danger of being lost.