Richmond farmers campaign against further house-size restrictions

A group of Richmond farmers has launched a campaign to dissuade government from further reducing the maximum allowable size of houses on agricultural land in the city.

The Richmond Farmland Owners Association, which includes 50 member families with more than 2,500 acres of farmland, is concerned that after the city updated policy on house sizes last spring, “special interest groups” are now pressuring the city to make them even smaller, spokesman Gunraj Gill said.

Last May, the City of Richmond made bylaw amendments reducing the allowable maximum sizes of houses on farmland to 5,382 sq. ft. on lots up to 0.5 acres and 10,763 sq. ft. on larger properties, after dozens of houses 15,000 sq. ft. and larger had been constructed.

Gill, a consultant working with the farmers, said that in the six months following this “made in Richmond solution,” the city received only 11 building permits for residential construction on farmland, down from 45 in the three months before the amendments. Before the changes, the average size for house construction was 12,000 sq. ft.; afterward, the average building permit application dropped to 8,192 sq. ft.

“What the farming community wants is: Let these homes be built, let people see the difference and then if we need to revisit this debate, then we most certainly can,” he said. “They feel that they worked extensively and they came up with an evidence-based decision, which was to reduce the sizes.”

In a news release, the owners association dismissed claims that larger homes are degrading farmland, and said many farms are owned and operated by an extended family living under one roof because bylaws prevent them from building several dwellings on any one farm.

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Gill said much of the opposition to the larger houses comes from a group called Richmond FarmWatch, which is concerned that so-called “monster homes” and speculation on ALR land are driving up property values and making them too expensive for farmers.

FarmWatch is petitioning the provincial government to make it law that municipalities enforce a Ministry of Agriculture guideline limiting all farmhouses to a maximum 5,382 sq. ft.

In recent months, Richmond MLAs Linda Reid and Jas Johal have questioned why the city is allowing larger homes, according to a Richmond News report. The city is preparing for a second round of consultation on the issue while the Ministry of Agriculture has struck a committee to review ALR policies, including house size, the News reported.



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