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New schools on Richmond's Highway to Heaven face scrutiny

Richmond city council will consider prohibiting any new schools being built on No. 5 Road’s Highway to Heaven.
Highway to Heaven
Religious institutions are allowed on farmland on No. 5 Road, but council will consider restricting any new schools.

Richmond city council will consider prohibiting any new schools being built on No. 5 Road’s Highway to Heaven.

A recent application by an elite private school in Richmond, Pythagoras Academy, to build a 10-acre school campus along the renowned strip - that includes mosques, synagogues, churches and temples as well as religious schools - was turned down by council. But it sparked a debate about the original intention of allowing institutions along the strip on No. 5 Road, located in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

The motion, which will be dealt with a committee meeting in early January, rationalizes the proposed exclusion of schools saying the best use of farmland is farming and that school development is “highly land intensive” because it needs to include facilities like gyms and sports fields. The fact the public school district has to compete on the “open market” for school land – not on “lower value farmland” – is another rationale for the motion.

The Pythagoras Academy – which charges tuition fees between $17,700 and $28,000 – wanted to build a $106-million school with a 400-seat theatre, a commercial kitchen and sports fields. But they also proposed having a 20-acre organic farm at the back part of the property.

Coun. Harold Steves said the Official Community Plan (OCP) institutional designation was meant to allow religious groups affordable land for their places of worship.

This special use is enshrined in the OCP and is called the “No. 5 Road Backlands Policy” and it requires farming on the easterly portion of the properties.

The policy allows for educational uses on these properties, but there is also a requirement to farm the back part of the property.

In addition to religious institutions, there are four private religious schools along the Highway to Heaven – B.C. Muslim School, Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy, Jewish Day School and Richmond Christian School.

Pythagoras Academy, however, isn’t a religious school.

The property where Pythagoras Academy was proposed, the former Mylora Golf Course, is currently owned by Komodo Holdings Inc. Taxes for the property are about $57,000, compared to Richmond Christian School just up the road whose property taxes are about $3,700.