British Columbia

Richmond votes for status quo on ALR houses, adds option for 2nd dwelling

It means the maximum size for the main house on a property will remain at 10,764 square feet; secondary dwellings of up to 3,229 square feet will be allowed on properties of more than 20 acres without the need for rezoning.

Maximum size will remain at 10,764 sq. ft., while 2nd homes can be 3,229 sq. ft.

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

Richmond City Council voted Monday night to stick with current size limits for farm homes, but added the right to build a secondary home.

It means the maximum size for the main house on a property will remain at 10,764 square feet. Secondary dwellings of up to 3,229 square feet will be allowed on properties of more than 20 acres (eight hectares) without the need for rezoning.

At the end of the meeting, which continued past midnight, council voted six to three in favour of maintaining the status quo and adding the secondary dwelling, with Mayor Malcom Brodie and councillors Carol Day and Harold Steves voting against.

Vote raises farm values

Many at the meeting spoke in favour of reducing house sizes in order to stop farmland from being turned into estates for huge homes with only nominal farming.

Steves also voiced those concerns, saying he originally proposed limiting house sizes to 5,400 square feet based on provincial guidelines and suggested the amendment to allow farmers to a build a secondary home for farm workers.

Instead, the council rejected the smaller house size but kept the amendment for secondary homes, effectively raising the buildable area to 14,000 square feet.

Homes upwards of 20,000 square feet in size are found across farmland in Richmond, B.C. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Steves, whose family has owned farmland in the city for decades, says the vote effectively put farmland out of the reach of anyone wanting to actually farm it, and instead handed it to developers to build mega-homes.

"Everybody that has farmland in the ALR effectively made around $2 million last night," he said. "It's going to make it very difficult for anyone who wants to go farming who isn't inheriting a farm to get started."

Steves notes there are more than 1,000 farm lots in Richmond that would qualify under the rules.

Farmers concerned over next generation

But many from the farming community spoke in favour of keeping the current size limits, saying they needed the large homes to house multiple generations living together and keep their farms financially viable.

"I'm one of the biggest cranberry farmers in Canada and today I'm very proud to have most, if not all, of the Richmond's cranberry farmers here tonight. They are multigenerational." said Peter Dhillion, who spoke against reducing house size limits

"You talk about young farmers. Well, look in the room. They are back there and we are very concerned of what you guys are talking about."

Government: new rules likely in September

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham says the issue of large homes being built on farmland is "concerning", but wouldn't commit to any changes until a review of the Agricultural Land Commission is completed this summer

"We're working fairly quickly ... the consultation process was necessary before we moved forward. The recommendations are going to be informed recommendations," she said. 

"September, I think that's an OK timeline."

But she did strongly hint that changes on what could be built on farmland would be coming, whether in legislation or regulations.

"There is a problem. But it's not just Richmond. It's a problem going across the province," she said.

"House size ... is something that determines whether or not a farm can be purchased by a new or young farmer in the future. If the price of that land is too high, the one thing that it guarantees is that farming won't be happening."

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