Metro Vancouver's recent decision to back off from a push to restrict the size of homes on agricultural land will allow for the proliferation of mega homes where farms should be, according to Coun. Harold Steves.
"This is something I've been fighting against for years," said Steves. "This will, in my opinion, encourage nonfarmers to build large homes on ALR."
Metro Vancouver directors decided Friday to not restrict house sizes, but directors did renew a call for provincial legislation governing where the house can go and limiting the residential footprint.
Steves calls the move "a watered down version of the original motion to restrict the size of homes on ALR land.
"We wanted a similar bylaw to what Delta has, which restricts the size of homes to 5,000 square feet," he added.
The decision comes about a year after directors raised concerns that homes, some as big as 15,000 square feet on fiveand 10-acre lots and often coupled with tennis courts, swimming pools and illegal secondary suites, were being built on farmland and would lead to the loss of valuable agricultural land for future food production.
However, Surrey directors argued that municipalities should be able to dictate land use on farms in their communities and hailed the decision as a "middleground" approach between municipal control and protecting farmland across the region.
Richmond restricts homes to a maximum setback of 50 metres from the road front, but Steves said the city often turns a blind eye to those rules when they're faced with developers.
Steves said many homes are being built on agricultural land as "country homes" or leased to modified farmers to get a tax break.
"We should be asking the province who these modified farmers are," Steves said. "A large number of them are not farmers at all."
"Basically, this new version is recommending that a footprint be decided so either you could have a 20,000 square foot house or a smaller house and more amenities, such as a pool or tennis court," Steves said.
Surrey director Linda Hepner, a city councillor, said restricting the footprint and setting specific sites for homes on agricultural land would prevent houses being built in the middle of the property.
Under provincial guidelines, she said, the residential footprint would be confined to half an acre for the main house and a quarter-acre for a second home.
"Then we're doing what we intend to do - to protect the farmland," she said.
"If they want to put a tennis court there or a swimming pool or a house, the footprint is the footprint."
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson agreed, saying the move would allow municipalities to manage the residential farm footprint and protect the land.
"We have 19 farms in Vancouver and (the number is) growing with urban farms. There's a keen interest in food security but we need to respect the municipalities."
But Delta Mayor Lois Jackson warned directors to be careful. Delta is the only Metro municipality to restrict house sizes on agricultural land, limiting them to 5,000 square feet on 10 acres and 3,200 square feet on five-acre parcels.
Jackson noted the size of the house also affects the size of the sewer system, which also has to be kept on the residential footprint.
"We're trying to save as much land as possible," she said.
"Our position has been to save absolutely every square inch of good soil you've got. I know there's a lot of people who would say they want a bigger house but you can't always have that."
North Vancouver City Mayor Darrell Mussatto said if people want to live in big houses, they should buy in the city so Metro can "maintain some of the best farmland in the world."
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