Richmond city council puts moratorium on new farm houses

Coun. Alexa Loo lends support to land owners in 8-1 vote

A near unanimous Richmond city council has placed a moratorium on building permit applications for houses on protected farmland.

Monday’s 8-1 vote in favour of a moratorium follows a recent flood of such applications to build large houses on the Agricultural Land Reserve. 

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In January, when council began a public consultation process on restricting home sizes on farmland, Couns. Carol Day and Harold Steves called for such a measure, fearing a rush of development.

At that time, council chose to wait for public consultation to conclude. Now, Mayor Malcolm Brodie, and most others, are onside with a moratorium, until staff can draw up a new bylaw.

“My belief is, having left the situation with reduced guidelines has ended up with some premises in the ALR that are larger than warranted. I believe the time has come for limitations on house size and home plate size,” said Brodie.

Whereas normally the City of Richmond takes in 15 applications per year, since Jan. 1 it has seen 26. This year’s applications have proposed homes that average 12,000-square-feet in size, with the largest being 22,390-square-feet, according to a staff report that tabled a moratorium option.

As it stands, after the vote by council, applicants have seven days to receive a building permit under the old housing bylaws, which has few restrictions.

After seven days, all applications will be considered under a new, proposed bylaw that will further limit house sizes. The new, proposed bylaw is to be presented to council on April 24. A public hearing could happen as early as May 15, notes the report.

Coun. Alexa Loo opposed the moratorium, on grounds that land owners have a right to sell their property without “heavy-handed” government intervention.

“We’re not a communist country; it’s not up to me to decree what is appropriate,” said Loo.

“They (farmers) have owned their land for years with the belief they can sell or build.They should be allowed to take the risk to cash out now, should they choose,” said Loo.

The first-term councillor also took issue with the fact that council hasn’t decided on what size is appropriate under new bylaws. Currently, there are few effective restrictions on house size, but a home may be limited by the fact it can’t be built more than 50 metres away from the road.

“Some people are freaking out about a bunch of dirt,” she said, adding homes take relatively little space on big acreages.

Moreover, restrictions don’t tackle the root of the problem.

“If the goal is to get people to farm, then that’s a different discussion,” said Loo, who, as a councillor, doesn’t see it as her job to curb land speculation.

Coun. Harold Steves begs to differ and presented council with a real estate ad for a home on No. 2 Road, which noted the 6.5-acre lot, for sale for $7.9 million, has a “maximum future building envelope” of 28,225-square-feet.

“This is a truly once in a lifetime opportunity,” notes the ad.

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