British Columbia

Richmond looks to regulate 'monster homes' on farmland

Lower Mainland farms, some of the most productive in North America, are threatened by high real estate prices, a leading academic says.

'Last summer we got applications for houses 40,000 square feet,' councillor says

Lower Mainland farms, like this one in Chilliwack, are very productive, an academic says, but high real estate prices have made them attractive for speculation and the construction of large homes. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

This week, Richmond city council is looking at bylaws that restrict the size of so-called "monster homes" on farms.

Lower Mainland farms are some of the most productive in North America but they are being edged out by high real estate prices, a leading academic says.

"Not only because people are looking for places to live but also because it makes it harder for new farmers to enter the field," Lenore Newman, Canada Research Chair in Food Security and Environment at the University of the Fraser Valley told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

Newman says while the Agricultural Land Reserve has mostly done a good job of keeping farmland for agricultural use — over the last 40 years, she estimates over 90 percent of land in the reserve is still for farming — but there is pressure from land speculators on the commission which oversees it .

"A lot of speculators are now seeing it as a bit of a lottery ticket," she said. "Maybe things will change, maybe things will look different down in the future and so we're seeing a lot of people holding land and not farming it."

'An unhealthy farm environment'

Newman says one "symptom of an unhealthy farm environment" is the proliferation of massive homes on farmland.

She says many owners of these homes were able to buy the land cheaply and then build larger homes and pay less tax, all while not facing any obligation to do any farming.

Richmond is one area where this plays out, she says, and Councillor Harold Steves agrees.

"Last summer we got applications for houses 40,000 square feet," he said. "We turned them down. That's not a single-family home."

"We want to send a message to people considering buying that they should be buying ALR land for farmland. … to put houses taking up two or three acres of land is ludicrous."

This week Richmond City Council is debating options for a bylaw on house sizes on ALR land.

Steves says he favours a bylaw similar to Delta's that would limit farmhouses to approximately 5,000-square-foot, with smaller houses on farms smaller than 20 acres.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Richmond considering how to regulate 'monster homes' on farmland