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Former Maple Ridge mayor packs it in, selling the farm

Gord and Mary Robson feed their sheep and a llama at Heather Hills Golf Course last year. The property is now up for sale. - The News/Files
Gord and Mary Robson feed their sheep and a llama at Heather Hills Golf Course last year. The property is now up for sale.
— image credit: The News/Files

A former Maple Ridge mayor has given up fighting district hall and is shutting down his golf course and selling the farm it’s on.

Gordy Robson, mayor from 2005 to 2008, has given up his legal battle with the district over the use of his farmland for a golf course and has closed the operation to the public and put the whole 28 acres in Webster’s Corners up for sale.

Late last week, the district and Robson and his wife reached an agreement in which they agreed to close Heather Hills golf course to the public.

In return, the district will drop its B.C. Supreme Court action launched in May 2013 that sought to force closure of the course and removal of all related infrastructure, including a club house, tents, golf carts, as well as food and beverage services.

The civil suit was filed in May 2013 and alleged Gordon and Mary Robson were breaking the district’s zoning bylaw in operating a golf course in a rural residential area.

Robson said it would have cost him another $50,000 in legal fees, on top of the $50,000 he’s already spent, to continue the battle.

He said the property is already on the real estate market.

“Listed as of this morning,” he said Monday.

Robson said he’s tired of the struggle and time is catching up.

“It’s just going on and on.”

The property, at 25494 117th Ave., is  selling for $6.3 million, including the private, nine-hole golf course, which was operated seasonally, from spring through summer, as part of the non-profit Heather Hills Farm Society. Five homes are on the property, composed of six lots. The listing says property taxes are low because of farm tax status with revenue from hazelnuts, heather, eggs, seasonal vegetables and sheep.

The issue started when the B.C. Assessment Authority changed the classification of his property from Class 9 to Class 8, so that the property could only operate as non-profit recreation use.

But Robson successfully appealed that and got his property restored to Class 9 farm status, which allows agri-tourism.

His lawyer, Jonathan Baker, said that agri-tourism is a legitimate, specified use within the Agricultural Land Reserve. Therefore, under the Farm Practices Protection Act, any municipal bylaw which interferes with a farm’s operation is illegal.

Hazel nuts, vegetables, sheep and eggs were also produced on the property, strengthening its case as a farm.

“My feeling is he certainly had a valid claim,” Baker said.

He pointed out the B.C. Assessment Appeal board ruled that Robson’s property was farmland, further supporting the case.

“Here you have a beautiful, bucolic golf course with sheep grazing on it. It’s a fantastic place. It keeps the land from being developed. It seems to me that they’re manufacturing a problem where none existed.”

Baker doesn’t know why the district launched the suit.

“Groucho Marx said politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, analyzing it incorrectly and applying the wrong solutions. “This was a good example of Groucho Marxism in my opinion. This never made sense to me.”

Robson doesn’t know if he’ll stay in Maple Ridge once the property sells.

“We don’t know. My kids have been crying, my wife is crying. It’s pretty emotional.”

Robson made his announcement early this week, which prompted a response from Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin.

Daykin defeated Robson in the 2008 election.

The issue is simply about operating a commercial golf course on property that is not legally zoned for that use, Daykin said in a release.

“This is about requiring the Heather Hills Golf Course to comply with the same laws and requirements as any other public, commercial golf course in the district that is zoned properly …”

The Robsons could have always applied for rezoning, but didn’t, he added.

He said the Agricultural Land Commission hasn’t approved the golf course, “and it remains a non-farm use.”

Daykin said if the property is sold, the new owners can apply for rezoning. Robson’s business licence pertained to only the selling of heather and hazelnuts to tourists, Daykin noted.

“Mr. Robson was the mayor of this community for three years and should know the rules and the process to apply for the appropriate zoning on the Heather Hills Golf Course lands,” Daykin said.

“Yes, enough is enough and the mayor and council have taken a stand on Gordon and Mary Robson staying within the legal requirements that pertain to all property owners in Maple Ridge.”

Daykin said later the enforcement wasn’t politically motivated and that the processes and applications involving the Agricultural Land Commission led to the delay in enforcement until 2013.

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