Listing for $7.7M Richmond farm on ALR land promises space for driving range, tennis courts

A real-estate listing for a 1.6-hectare blueberry farm promises a 12,500 square-foot mansion and the chance to build a private driving range — enraging Richmond farming activists.

'It's completely exploiting the ALR,' advocates say about property with permit for 12,500-sq. ft. home

6571 No. 7 Road is on sale for $7.7 million, much to the dismay of farming advocates. The house, pictured above, has since been demolished. (Google Earth)

After a long, hot morning picking blueberries, why not throw on your tennis shoes and work on your backhand in a private court?

This lifestyle will cost you about $7.7 million (not to mention the cost of building your own tennis court) if you want to saddle up at 6571 No. 7 Road, a blueberry farm for sale in Richmond whose realtors are advertising a life of luxury on the 1.6-hectare plot of agricultural land.

There's more. According to the listing, it comes with a permit to build a 12,500 square-foot mansion and offers plenty of space to build a swimming pool, cabana, private tennis court, and even a driving range.

But the property's hefty price tag has fuelled concerns that farmers can no longer afford agricultural land in the region.

According to B.C. Assessment, the property's value has increased substantially over the last two years. It was assessed at $342,595 in 2016, climbing to more than $2 million in 2017.

A decades-old farmhouse, around 3,000 square feet in size, once sat on the property. The owner got permission to demolish it and build bigger, and now the land is up for sale.

According to farming advocate Laura Gillanders, blueberries haven't been farmed at the property for the past year. (CBC)

To farm, or not to farm

The farm is one of many that's caught the eye of Richmond FarmWatch — a group dedicated to preserving ALR land for the intended purpose of farming, not developing large luxury estates.

"Speculation of ALR is rampant," said Laura Gillanders, one of the organization's members. "This year, [6571 No. 7 Road] lost its farm status — it wasn't even farmed."

The Agricultural Land Commission has no requirement forcing landowners to farm the ALR land they have purchased.

Nearly 1.6 hectares of land would lend itself to a private driving range or a tennis court, according to real estate listings. (CBC)

"People say 'We should be able to do what we want on our land,'" said Gillanders. "But they bought agricultural land knowing it was zoned for agriculture, meaning that the primary purpose has to be agriculture."

"It's completely exploiting the ALR because most of these people bought the land when it was much, much cheaper."

According to ALR CEO Kim Grout, the provincial government can't keep people from building large mansions with luxury trappings as long as those additions don't interfere with the fertility of the acreage. A driving range might not qualify.

"A driving range, you have to be careful because you're flirting with the golf course piece," said Grout. "Golf courses are not permitted... [and] a driving range would be a non-farm use, especially if it was a commercial undertaking."

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie says the city is looking at ways to further limit the size of houses built on ALR land.

Bigger is better?

The City of Richmond has introduced regulations to reduce the growing number of mansions devouring farmland in the region.

Last spring, the city passed a bylaw limiting the size of homes that can be built on a half-acre of farmland to 10,764 square feet.

However, according to realtors behind 6571 No. 7 Road, the property comes with a permit to build a 12,500 square foot mansion — one that was obtained before the new rules took effect in April 2017.

According to Richmond Mayor Malcom Brodie, any permits that were issued before last spring are fair game.

"There wasn't that much in the way of regulations, so you could make it fairly big," said Brodie, adding that applications for residential buildings on farmland have since dropped to an average of 8,000 square feet.

"We are taking a look to see, under all the circumstances, if we should be limiting it far more than that," said Brodie.

Brodie is calling on the provincial government to apply B.C.'s foreign buyers tax to ALR land in an effort to quell to cool the market — a sentiment that's shared by the members of Richmond FarmWatch.

"The chances of new farmers getting into farming and taking over these farms is really small," said Gillanders. "We're seeing the possibility of having local food production really diminish."

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