British Columbia

Move to stop mega-mansions on swaths of ALR land isn't enough, locals say

The leader of B.C.'s Green Party moved to ban foreign buyers from purchasing big chunks of agricultural land earlier this week — a good step, according to locals, but not enough.

Green party leader reintroduced bill to bar foreign buyers from building on farmland last week

John Baines, who lives in Richmond, says he's happy that provincial political leaders are moving to stop foreign buyers from purchasing massive mansions in the city. That said, he doesn't think a bill from Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver goes far enough. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

The leader of B.C.'s Green Party moved to ban foreign buyers from purchasing big chunks of agricultural land earlier this week — a good step, according to locals, but not enough.

On Thursday, party leader Andrew Weaver reintroduced a bill that would bar investors from buying ALR land more than two hectares in size. Weaver initially brought the bill forward in February 2016.

"By allowing ALR land to be subject to international real estate speculation, we are limiting their opportunities to get into this vital, sustainable industry," Weaver said in a statement.

Richmond resident John Baines says mega-mansions have been cropping up in his neighbourhood, not far from ALR land, for quite some time — leaving him worried that valuable farmland is out of reach for workers.

It's not known if these homes have been purchased by foreign buyers.

"As you can see, it's approximately 23,000 to 24,000 square feet ... it's built on five or six acres [about two hectares] of farm land," he said Friday, pointing to an unfinished home going up near his own.

"I would suggest to you that a farm worker will never see the inside of this building."

Baines said homes like this one — upwards of 20,000 square feet in size and built on several acres of farmland — are scattered across Richmond. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Laura Gillanders works with Richmond Farm Watch, a group of residents who want to preserve farmland in the city. She said Weaver's bill won't stop that problem.

"A lot of our farm land is under five acres and a lot of our vegetable farms are under five acres, so that will not help us alone," she said. "We need more than that."

In May, the City of Richmond said new homes on ALR land must be limited to 11,000 square feet in size — but properties listed in the fall show bigger homes, built before the new rules came into effect.

MLS listings show massive homes on the market, built before B.C. limited homes built on farmland to 11,000 square feet. before the bylaws were changed. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Those like Gillanders and Baines have called on the provincial government to make municipalities follow guidelines set out by the Ministry of Agriculture. Those rules limit house sizes to the equivalent of nearby residential neighbourhoods. 

"There's no reason why the local municipalities shouldn't be following these guidelines," Gillanders said.

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said she is meeting with members of the Richmond Farm Watch group in coming weeks to discuss the idea. 

With files from Tina Lovgreen

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