Belcarra couple and corporation sue City of Richmond over farmland mega-mansion row

Building permits were cancelled after city inspectors deemed construction was halted for more than 180 days

A couple from Belcarra and a corporation are taking the City of Richmond to court over farmland building permits they say were unjustly cancelled prior to new, more restrictive, home size regulations being adopted by city council in December.

The two separate cases filed in BC Supreme Court this week both claim the city negligently deemed their building permits to have expired because of a lack of construction activity on the respective properties.

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Fu Li Yu and Jing Yang of Belcarra applied to build a large home at 8551 No. 5 Road in “early 2017,” according to their claim. On Aug. 30, 2017, they were issued permits on their five-acre property, and by that September, they claim, construction had started and never ceased.

But in October 2018, city inspectors deemed otherwise and cited Bylaw No. 7300, which states permits will be discontinued if construction is suspended for more than 180 days.

A similar fate befell Minster Enterprises, whose principal is Tie Jun Li. Minster’s permits were applied for in March 2017 but were cancelled by the city in September 2018 after the city claimed that no construction had taken place within 180 days.

Minster has filed a more detailed account of its construction activity, noting the five-acre site at 14160 Westminster Highway first required preloading with sand to compress to the soil. As well, a drainage ditch was excavated in May 2018.

The court proceedings add to a multi-year saga swirling around farmland speculation in the city’s portion of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and council’s attempt to curb mega-mansions with a new bylaw.

In July 2016, when there was no practical limit to house sizes, Richmond staff brought to council’s attention an application for a 3,900-square-metre home on the ALR. Staff denied the application.

Richmond passed a bylaw in December 2018 that limits ALR houses to 400 square metres, while the provincial government mandated in February a new provincewide limit of 500 square metres.

The problem for the couple and Minster appears to be that their permits were cancelled and new ones were not, or could not be, issued until after the new building regulations came into effect.

Coun. Harold Steves said permits could take days or months depending on the complexity of the project. He said he wasn’t aware of the lawsuits and staff would not comment, as the city had yet to file a response.

Steves said six other ALR home applicants were recently prevented from building 1,000-square-metre homes due to filing issues, but he understood their concerns have been remedied.

The court documents filed this week don’t explain why the applicants did not apply for or receive new permits before the new regulations came into force.

Rather, “As a result of recent changes to the City’s zoning bylaws and provincial legislation, in order to obtain a new building permit, Minster will be required to entirely redesign the residence and redo much of the construction work,” the company claimed.

Both Minster and the couple are suing for various losses including the difference between the property’s value had the project been constructed according to the original permits, and the value had it been built under the new permits.

Their applications could have been submitted as council pondered a moratorium of ALR permits. On Jan. 27, 2017, Coun. Carol Day and Steves argued for a moratorium as a rush of applications came in, in anticipation of changes.

However it took until March 25, 2017, for council to put a moratorium on applications before drafting an interim bylaw enacting a 1,000-square-metre limit. Had Minster and Yu and Yang applied before then they would have been eligible for a house with no practical size limits.

Last year ALR land in Richmond was being listed for upwards of $1 million an acre. The provincial government is expected to release a report on money laundering in the B.C. real estate sector by the end of the month.

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