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Province, Richmond move to restrict 'mega-homes' on farmland

Last Updated Nov 5, 2018 at 7:38 pm PST

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Summary

New laws propose houses less than 5,400 sq. feet, reinstating one zone for all ALR land and enforcing anti-dumping rules

City of Richmond committee to vote on new house size bylaws, including moratorium on new housing projects.

RICHMOND (NEWS 1130) — New so-called “mega-homes” and “mega-mansions” on farmland might soon have to be a little smaller, as the province and the City of Richmond propose new rules to limit house sizes, heights and footprints.

Legislation introduced in the legislature on Monday would make three major changes the B.C. Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) including limiting houses to less than 5,400 square feet, reinstating one zone for all ALR land and enforcing anti-dumping rules.

“We all need good food to be nourished, healthy and a vibrant farming economy benefits all British Columbians,” Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham said Monday following the tabling of the legislation. “In order to do that, our farmers and ranchers need to be able to access our province’s most productive farmland.”

Builders would need special permission from the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to build larger homes.

The proposed law also seeks to bolster the compliance and enforcement powers of the ALC to prevent misuse of farmland such as for dumping construction debris. New penalties would include up to $1 million in fines or six months in jail for first-time offences.

Bringing all land under one type of zoning would also streamline the rules, according to Popham.

“With climate changes, we’re seeing produce being grown further north in regions where we wouldn’t have grown things a decade ago,” she said. “The ALR protects just a sliver of B.C.’s total land, only five per cent, and more than 90 per cent of the land is currently in zone two.”

Homes already built will be allowed to stay 

Current homes that are above the proposed allowable limit would be grandfathered into the new rules and be allowed to stay.

“I’m very happy with it. It’s very much along the lines of what I was hoping to see happen,” Richmond Coun. Harold Steves said. If every community doesn’t do it, this just moves to the next community so it really does require provincial legislation which is really a pleasure to see it’s coming.”

Steves, a long-time proponent of the restricting house sizes on farmland helped create the ALC in 1973. He has also proposed similar bylaws in Richmond which he says coincidentally coincided with the province’s announcement.

The province’s legislation was introduced one day before the City of Richmond’s General Purposes Committee will vote on whether to further limit the size of houses, including their height and overall footprint.

The report recommends the committee approve a bylaw that restricts home sizes on lots 0.5 acres or larger in the Agriculture zone to 5,382 square feet, just slightly smaller than the province’s limit.

However, the proposed bylaw would also limit buildings to two storeys, a maximum footprint of 60 per cent of the total floor area and a maximum farm home plate 10,764 square feet. Owners would also be required to have the septic field located within the farm home plate.

If approved, Steves says the city will implement a moratorium on new housing projects.

“If it passes committee, and I assume it will, then the mayor would call a special council meeting right there to adopt it so the moratorium would be effective immediately, and not wait two or three weeks. Because once you bring the moratorium in under the law, it’s not in effect for seven days,” Steves said, adding one week would limit the number of potential applicants who could get their plans in under the current law.

Community criticism, votes were catalyst for change

In May, Richmond council voted to keep the 10,000 square foot limit, but Mayor Malcolm Brodie says two major changes have happened since then.

“One of which has been extensive discussion among the entire community. We also had an election and two of the councillors who supported the status quo were defeated and replaced by two vocal critics of the previous policy,” he said.