Year in review: ALR home sizes shrink

Mega mansions on farmland has been a hot topic in Richmond for decades, but in 2018 it turned into a fireball. Residents on both sides of the issue were packing council chambers to push their agenda. In the end, council decided to limit home size on ALR land by more than half, but the journey there was full of twists and turns.

For decades, farmland owners had little restrictions on the size of homes they could build and as a result mansions in excess of 20,000 square feet were sprouting up on farmland. In 2017, city council created a bylaw to limit these homes to 10,764 square feet on lots greater than 0.5 acres. But that was seen by many as a token gesture. Then came 2018.

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In January, Lana Popham, agricultural minister announced that a nine-member committee would consider and put forward provincial recommendations on farmland house sizes.

In February, a public consultation process took place and by March, the home size matter was back at a council meeting. However, the issue was referred back to city staff after some farmland owners asked council to consider allowing secondary dwellings on their property for farm workers.

ALR council
Council votes on ALR home sizes in March.

Throughout these months of discussion, a vocal group of farmland owners expressed their frustration over home sizes being limited.

In May, council voted to keep the status quo of ALR home sizes – at 10,764 – and voted to add in a secondary dwelling without needing a permit.

In the months that followed, however, ALR home sizes became a key election issue and two slates in particular – Richmond Citizens’ Association and RITE – campaigned heavily on the promise of reducing home sizes. The fact the two incumbents from the group got the most votes and two new candidates, one from RCA and one from RITE, were elected galvanized the anti-mega home contingent.

The day after the new council was sworn in, Coun. Harold Steves brought the matter back on the agenda, proposing that home sizes be limited to 500 square metres, or 5,382 square feet. Steves added a home plate size limit, which would prevent homes from sprawling across farm property.

On Nov. 6, immediately following a general purposes’ committee meeting, a special council meeting was called to vote on the home size issue, which passed unopposed.

While Steves’ motion had already been added to council’s agenda well before the meeting, the pursuit of this bylaw coincidentally came on the heels of the province announcing its own legislation limiting ALR home sizes to 5,382 square feet. That announcement was made Monday, Nov. 5.

Just one week later, Coun. Chak Au proposed an amendment that would see ALR home sizes limited even further to 400 square metres, or around 4,300 square feet. That amendment passed, with Mayor Malcolm Brodie and Couns. Linda McPhail and Alexa Loo voting against the smaller home size.

The matter came to a final vote at a public hearing on Dec. 17 and passed 6-3, with the same three opposed. 

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