Richmond councillor wants stricter size limits on farmland houses
City staff report shows big drop in construction applications for 'mega-mansions' on farms
Reported by Saša Lakić
A Richmond city councillor says legislation introduced last spring to limit the size of a new house on farmland does not go far enough, despite a significant drop in recent applications and construction approvals.
Harold Steves said he wants the city to adopt guidelines set by British Columbia’s Ministry of Agriculture, which does not mandate house sizes on B.C. farmland, but recommends a maximum of 500 sq. m., or 5,382 sq. ft.
“In terms of big houses, I support the Ministry of Agriculture guidelines,” said Steves, but added that the ministry’s recommended size for a house could be reduced further. “At the planning committee, everybody except [Coun.] Alexa Loo agreed to take an effective look at [further house size restrictions].”
Staff report shows a drastic decrease in applications
A staff report that went before council Oct. 26 revealed the city only received 11 new applications for housing on farms since council amended a bylaw in April to limit the size of houses on agricultural properties.
That’s a decrease of 76 per cent from 45 applications in the first three months of 2017. Of those 11 applications, the average size of the proposed homes dropped to an average of 8,200 sq. ft., well under the allowable limit of 10,764 sq. ft.
The impetus to amend zoning limits on Richmond’s farmland came after city staff canceled an application for a 41,000-sq. ft mansion that would have featured no less than 21 bedrooms.
Staff also noticed that between 2010 and 2015, the average size of a farmland house increased from 7,300 sq. ft. to 12,000 sq. ft.
By spring of 2017, city staff held consultations with farmers and residents and came up with recommendations for city council to scale down house sizes as a way to curb speculative real estate development.
Farmland advocates want even stricter limits
Jack Trovato, a member of the Richmond Citizens’ Association, said the initial amendment was a “step in the right direction.” But, he said, council is still approving the construction of large houses on farmland.
“Many people in the community believe that 5,000 sq. ft. is still quite large,” said Trovato, who wants council to further reduce the allowable size of homes. “We’re hoping that city council will make the right decision on behalf of the entire community, rather than just a few.”
Trovato’s advocacy group launched an online petition that requests Richmond City Council implement a moratorium on new building applications for farmland until the city limits house sizes to provincial recommendations. A total of 2,925 people had signed the petition as of Monday afternoon.
Michelle Li, coordinator with the advocacy group Richmond Farmwatch, said she was disappointed with the report. Li said council’s incremental approach to control house sizes on farmland does nothing to curb real estate speculation.
“They keep thinking that by working their way down [in size], they are doing something,” Li said. “We’re hoping that by showing the smaller-scale farmers — and new farmers that are trying to access land — that it is more important that we preserve land for them than giving into the interests of big developers.”
She recommended city council adopt house size limits spelled out in real estate consultant Richard Wozny’s report to city council in April 2017. Wozny said the maximum allowable house size should be 4,200 sq. ft., which would “significantly decrease buying activity and speculation.”