Richmond’s new council has voted unanimously for city staff to prepare a bylaw that will see further limits to homes on agricultural land, just one day after being sworn in.
At a general purposes’ committee meeting on Tuesday, Coun. Harold Steves put forward a motion to revisit a 500 square metre home size limit and 1000 square metre home plate size limit for houses on Richmond’s Agricultural Land Reserve.
Immediately following the general purposes’ committee meeting, a special council meeting was called to vote on the home size issue, which passed unopposed.
The matter of ALR home sizes became a significant issue during Richmond’s October election, and even earlier in the spring, had led to multiple lengthy council meetings.
“This was the election issue,” Steves said following the meetings, pointing to the high number of votes he and Coun. Carol Day received.
“The public said they support us, so we brought it back today. Simply put, the public said ‘do it,’ we did it.”
During the meetings, Richmond resident John Roston encouraged council to take the limits even further.
“I think there’s nothing wrong with mansions, we would just like them built elsewhere,” Roston said to council.
“My suggestion would be that we reduce the size to 300 square metres,” he said, explaining that a 500 square metre home would still be attractive to “wealthy non-farmers.”
However, for resident Bhupinder (Ben) Dhiman, the move to limit home sizes was “irresponsible governing.”
“Us farmers have other things we need to do and this keeps on coming around,” Dhiman told media following the general purposes’ committee meeting.
“They still feel they need to restrict farmers further and make things more difficult,” he said.
While Steves’ motion had already been added to council’s agenda last week, the pursuit of this bylaw coincidentally came on the heels of a provincial announcement with its own legislation limiting ALR home sizes. That announcement was made Monday."The old government let wealthy speculators drive the price of farmland out of reach for young farmers and allowed some of our most valuable agricultural land to be damaged," said Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture in a press release.
"We are protecting farmland in B.C. to ensure land is available now and for future generations of farmers, so people in British Columbia have a safe, secure supply of locally grown food on their tables for years to come."
If passed, Bill 52, or the agricultural land commission amendment, 2018, will include “addressing mega-mansions and speculation in the ALR by limiting new house sizes to less than 500 square metres.”
Applications will be accepted to the Agricultural Land Commission for exceptions to this limitation.
“Last year, the public learned about a farm in Richmond that was assessed at $85,000 and then it was sold for $9.2 million, more than a hundred times its value assessed for farm use,” Popham said during a press conference on Monday.
While Steves sought the same square footage limit as the province, he said the key difference was that he also wanted limits to how far a house can sprawl.
"The province did not bring in a home plate size at all and that means you can build a big house and sprawl everything all over the Agricultural Land Reserve," he told the Richmond News prior to Tuesday’s meeting.
"That's the important part of the resolution…is that we came up with a smaller lot size than what the provincial guidelines said."
Steves added that it was important for the city to pursue its own regulations to quickly stop new developments.
"We're bringing in a moratorium and under the moratorium all applications will close in seven days," Steves said. "We don't know when (the province's legislation) comes into effect and we're getting a lot of applications already.
"So we want to close the barn door."
Even though the provincial Bill 52 has been tabled, it will now need to go through first, second and third readings, followed by a vote. The debate on Bill 52 will continue throughout the fall.
For Richmond, city staff will now prepare a bylaw with these home size limits to be presented at next week’s council meeting. During a public hearing on the issue at a later date, council will then vote to put the bylaw into place.