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Maple Ridge says it can control farm homes

An estate home with a meandering river on rural property along Harris Road in Pitt Meadows. - Google Maps
An estate home with a meandering river on rural property along Harris Road in Pitt Meadows.
— image credit: Google Maps

 

The province is offering help with a tough issue for cities – how to limit the size and location of mansion homes built on farmland.

But Maple Ridge is saying thanks but no thanks, it can deal with it.

On Tuesday, council backed a report from its agricultural committee that would limit homes in the Agricultural Land Reserve to 7,000 sq. feet, with no more than a fifth of a hectare for residential purposes. The farthest a home could stretch into farmland from the front property line would be 60 metres.

But council also wants to be able to make its own rules, rather than have the province impose its law.

Building homes on farmland can make land too expensive for agricultural use and affect neighbouring farms, says the report.

“The driver of this is conversation is that … there are people who are not interested in farming buying large tracts of agricultural land for mansions … lifestyle purposes – not related to agriculture whatsoever,” Coun. Cheryl Ashlie said at Monday’s workshop.

Ashlie, who’s on the agricultural advisory committee, said rules are needed before Maple Ridge could be the next to experience people buying farmland, constructing large homes, and letting agricultural uses disappear.

“We need to stop this trend before it rolls through Maple Ridge, and it will roll through Maple Ridge, whether it’s local investors or international investors looking to build their mansions.

“Why would we allow that to happen on our agricultural land?

“Right now, as it stands, somebody can plunk a mansion down in the middle of prime agricultural land with no intentions whatsoever of farming it.”

Maple Ridge is giving its feedback to the province as the Ministry of Agriculture considers a law to regulate home sizes on farmland because of the difficulty in passing local bylaws and following Metro Vancouver’s request for provincial intervention. Surrey, Abbotsford and Pitt Meadows all tried to set limits, but gave up after public opposition. Those cities are waiting for provincial standards before proceeding further.

The ag committee’s report says Maple Ridge is vulnerable to estate homes chewing up farmland because 95 per cent of the lots in the ALR are less than 10 acres.

Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie is confident the district can set its own rules.

“It just boils down to political will around the table,” he said Wednesday.

“I think the reason they’re sending the report – nobody’s done it yet.”

Coun. Al Hogarth and Coun. Michael Morden, however, had concerns at council’s first discussion on Monday.

Hogarth, a realtor, said the size of home that’s allowed on farmland in the Agricultural Land Reserve should relate to the size of the farm on which it sits.

“It almost seems that we’re targeting a certain group of people that can afford large homes, and by doing so, I just wonder if we may be discouraging that certain group from locating in our community and perhaps even setting up businesses in our community because we have discouraged them from building what they consider to be their dream home.”

Hogarth suggested people be required to produce more agricultural products to qualify for the agricultural property tax rates, which are a fraction of residential property taxes.

Whether a home sits on one acre of farmland or 50 acres, the home would be limited to 7,000 sq. feet in size, he said.

“I think that’s wrong because there are families, as we know, that can afford, and in some cases require more than 7,000 sq. feet, particularly larger families … that come from a different society and have a totally different approach as to how they look after each other.

“Basically, we tend to put our North American influence on the thought that as soon as soon as you’re old enough, you’re out of the house, kid, forget about grandma and grandpa and the grand children.”

Meanwhile, many lots zoned RS-3 are in the ALR, but discourage farm use, he pointed out.

He agreed with requiring homes to be built at the front of properties, but disagreed with limits on space that could preclude large garages or swimming pools.

Morden had no problem requiring homes to be built near lot fronts, but wondered where else in Maple Ridge could someone build a large home. That could happen anywhere, except on farmland, providing setbacks were followed, staff replied.

“If we let the province put together this document, are we going to get what we want here?”

Ashlie didn’t oppose people building big homes, just not on farmland and said if regulations aren’t in place soon, it may be too late to protect farmland.

She’s confident Maple Ridge could enact such a law because the buying trend hasn’t yet started here.

 

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