British Columbia

Richmond mayoral candidates come together over issue of mansions built on farmland

Richmond mayoral candidates are grappling with how to protect fertile farmland as advocates say the land is being used, not as farmland, but to build large estates.

Each week until election day, CBC’s The Early Edition looks at a key issue in different municipalities

Until now, Richmond was one of the few Lower Mainland municipalities not to have a size restriction on farm homes. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Richmond mayoral candidates are grappling with how to protect fertile farmland as advocates say the land is being used, not as farmland, but to build large estates.

"I believe that there are many threats to our farmland and our city council needs to do what it can to protect the farmland to make it available for farmers," said current Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, who is running for re-election.

Currently, houses are allowed to reach 5,300 square feet on lots up to 0.5 acres and 10,700 square feet on larger properties, but Agriculture Minister Lana Popham is set to create legislative and regulatory changes this fall to limit house sizes on protected farmland.

Three of the six mayoral candidates for Richmond (left to right) Donald Flintoff, Malcolm Brodie and Roy Sakata debate what should be done about mega-homes being built on the municipality's Agricultural Reserve Land. (Anna Dimoff/ CBC)

Mayoral candidates debate

Each week until election day, CBC's The Early Edition is looking at a key issue in different municipalities voters want to see addressed.

Three of Richmond's six mayoral candidates, selected for their track record of significant civic engagement or with strong public support, have similar ideas about how to make the most of the region's agricultural land.

The Richmond Farmland Owners Association has been petitioning to keep the current allowable sizes with the argument that the homes are needed to house extended family.

"This issue keeps on coming up, and it's really pushing the farmers into a corner," said local blueberry farm owner Ben Dhiman.

"We're having to argue with the city and city residents about how we live."

'Bona fide farmers'

Roy Sakata, a former educational administrator who ran for city council in 2014, said the distinction between "bona fide farmers" and farmland owners needs to be made when speaking about land use.

He said small parcels of ALR land that are not being used as the owner's primary source of income but instead to build large homes are skewing the real estate market.

Brodie said the threshold for how much income an Agricultural Land Reserve plot has to earn per year is very low in order to get lower property tax rates, which is appealing to "people who are not your traditional farmer."

"They see it as an opportunity, in the short or the long run, for speculative profit. I think we need to introduce some limits to that," Brodie told Early Edition host Stephen Quinn.

Sakata agrees that a change in tax policy could be a solution to ensure the land is properly utilized.

"They've just been chipping away at the ALR in small lot development with large houses which really don't belong there," said Donald Flintoff, a longtime Richmond resident who has been a member of the Richmond Advisory Planning Committee.

Flintoff agreed with Sakata and Brodie saying people are treating the land as estates rather than farms and should be required to pay urban taxes.

He also pledged that he would prevent these large homes from being built, should he be elected, by halting the construction of homes larger than 3,500 square feet.

With files from The Early Edition 

To hear the full debate listen to media below:

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