Metro vs. mansions: Province asked to help curb sprawl on ALR land


From the Vancouver Sun – Feb 4, 2011

by Kelly Sinoski

Mega-sized homes could eat into land reserved for food production, officials fear

How much did the value of your Metro Vancouver home rise in the last five years? Find out in our pictoral analysis here.

METRO VANCOUVER — Metro Vancouver has asked the provincial government to help curb a proliferation of mega-sized estate homes that continue to sprawl across the region’s prime agricultural land.

The issue was part of a discussion Thursday about the region’s draft food strategy.

Metro directors fear the large homes, some as big as 15,000 square feet on five- and 10-acre lots and often coupled with tennis courts, swimming pools and illegal secondary suites, will lead to the loss of valuable agricultural land for future food production.

“When you have huge mansions, you can’t do anything with that, and potentially that land will never be farmed again,” said Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean, who also sits on Metro’s agricultural committee. “We don’t have an issue with estate homes — if they’re in the city. But we really think that if this continues we’ll lose critical mass for farming.

“If the ALR is there for a purpose, [the province] should be defending the uses of it.”

The B.C. Agriculture Ministry said it agrees with Metro’s concerns and last month released a draft discussion paper aimed at helping local governments regulate residential uses on ALR land.

The paper, considered by Metro’s agriculture committee Thursday, suggests limits could be applied to the size, scale and siting of the farm’s “home plate” — the footprint for residential uses and the house itself. A large house not only increases the cost of agricultural property — making it unaffordable for new farmers — but if it’s in the middle of the parcel, rather than at the front of the lot near the road or in a corner of the property, there’s less land available for farming.

Metro has asked staff to come back with recommendations on the home plate issue by March 3.

“We do share [Metro’s] concerns, particularly if large homes in a community can only be built in farming areas,” said Bert van Dalfsen, the agriculture ministry’s manager of strengthening farm programs. “We don’t want to have a lot of large homes on farmland.”

At the moment, Metro municipalities take an ad hoc approach when it comes to ALR land. Although Delta restricts homes in the ALR to the maximum size permitted in urban areas, others are at a loss when residents apply to build a mega home in the middle of a five-acre lot, an illegal suite over a barn or to cover prime farmland with a tennis court.

Yet any attempts to put restrictions in place are met with vocal opposition from residents, many of whom have built the larger homes for recreation or hobby farms.

Pitt Meadows, for instance, abandoned its plans to impose a home plate limit of 11,000 square feet on a 10-acre property after a public outcry. It has since approved a bylaw requiring all applications for secondary homes on ALR land to undergo an agrologist assessment to justify the claim that they’re needed to house farm workers.

“We have very, very good land and we want to maintain that land,” MacLean said, adding 85 per cent of Pitt Meadows is in the ALR. “People are looking at this as a property rights issue. We’re saying, ‘You’re in a special use area. If you tried to put up a home that went corner to corner to corner in Vancouver, somebody would come along and say you can’t have a permit for that.”

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About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.

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