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Improved Richmond farm road could yield two new houses in ALR

The Agricultural Land Commission has the final say on whether a road can be built in the ALR.
Bill Zylmans is asking to upgrade a road leading to his family's farm on Finn Road.

Two houses could be built on an Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) property, thanks to a recent Richmond city council decision.

In a 7-2 decision, council voted to let the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) decide whether a dirt road leading to a former farmhouse could be upgraded to a municipal road, which will allow a house, or even two, be built on it.

The property at 6808 Finn Rd. is owned by the Zylmans family, who have been farming in Richmond for decades and currently own W & A Farms.

When the Zylmans were looking to sell the property, they realized a house couldn’t be built on it because the road wasn’t up to municipal standards although it previously had a house and barn on it.

The house, on Finn Road west of Gilbert Road, was demolished in 1970 and the barn came down in a windstorm in 2018.

Current bylaws don’t allow a house to be built on roads that can’t be accessed by emergency services, like this one.

Coun. Michael Wolfe, who voted against sending the application to the ALC, said building the road could “open a can of worms” and set a “dangerous precedent” as there are more than 600 other properties on Richmond farmland without municipal access.

Furthermore, Wolfe pointed out, the province recently approved small secondary homes on ALR properties, and, if the ALC allows the road, this property will be eligible for not just one new house, but two.

However, houses built on Richmond ALR properties are restricted in size to about 4,300 square feet, and secondary homes, allowed by the province, are even smaller and have to be approved by city council.

City staff didn’t recommend allowing the road to be upgraded because it goes against council’s policy of discouraging roads in the ALR.

But this was considered a unique situation by the majority of council, since the parcel previously had a house and barn on it.

Coun. Andy Hobbs, voting in favour of the application moving forward for a final say with the ALC, said this situation is unlike the other 600-plus no-access ALR parcels in Richmond.

“We aren’t creating anything – we are allowing the owner to possibly recreate a situation that existed before where his family essentially homesteaded,” he told council at a recent meeting.

Coun. Harold Steves, who also supported building the road, said that most farms at that time didn’t have proper roads leading up to them in the past and many of them were mud roads.

The application to build the road will go to the ALC now, which has the final authority. However, if council had decided to not support the application, it wouldn’t have been forwarded to the ALC.

The Zylmans family has farmed the property since 1954.

The motion passed with Couns. Carol Day and Wolfe voting in opposition.