Photo by Chung Chow
A public hearing will be held Dec. 17 to further address Richmond’s so-called mega-mansion saga.
In the meantime, a moratorium takes effect this week suspending the issuance of new building permits on agriculturally-zoned land until new regulations are introduced by city council.
Council voted Tuesday night to support an amendment by Coun. Chak Au to limit the size of homes on agriculturally-zoned land to 400 square metres. This would further reduces the footprint from the 500-square metres (5,400 square feet) that members of council—at the committee level—unanimously agreed upon at a Nov. 6 meeting. The current allowable maximum is 1,000 square metres (10,700 square feet).
“My amendment is proposed to finish the work that the previous council did not complete,” Au said. “Ever since the issue of farm house sizes was brought back last week I’ve been thinking more about this. The previous council tried to address the issue by talking about reducing the home plate area and also by reducing the size of farm houses to 1,000 square metres, but I think it is obvious what has been started has not been enough to protect our farm land. With the price of farm land inflated and now out of reach for young farmers, when the price of farm land can be increased two to four times, or even more, just by obtaining a permit to build 1,000 square metre house, you know there is problem. By allowing this kind of speculation to continue we are literally stealing farmland from our future generations.”
Couns. Alexa Loo and Linda McPhail and Mayor Malcolm Brodie voted against Au’s proposed amendment.
“We’ve gone through the numbers on these houses a number of times,” Loo said.
“The provincial government has brought in a number of things to address different issues around speculation (including) increasing the foreign buyers’ tax to 20 per cent, but (the tax) is not put on farm land so it automatically draws anyone looking from a distance. Because farming is a business, you can’t tax that land with that foreign buyers’ tax. All these new taxes mean added cost to every other house in the neighbourhood, but not to the agricultural land. We can do all our machinations and we’re still not going to fix that.”
Loo said council previously went through a long process and consulted with the public and farmers over the size of farm homes on agriculturally zoned land.
“We heard from many of the farmers, (including) people I went to elementary school with…who begged me not to reduce the farm land house size because it was affecting their ability to get funding to continue farming,” she said.
“The provincial government is already coming down with a rule (to limit the size of farm houses to 5,300 square feet), and now we’re looking to tighten it even more. I don’t think that’s going to (resolve the issue). I think what you are going to do is upset a bunch of the farmers in your town and you’re not actually going to see any significant change in speculation one way or the other,” Loo said.