January 18, 2017

Farm Land or Large Mansions on the Agricultural Land Reserve?

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From the Richmond News the City of Richmond has decided to create a bylaw restricting the size of houses built on the ALR (the Agricultural Land Reserve) in that municipality. A couple of things-if you purchase farm land you do not have to pay the 15 per cent foreign owner tax. And if you can crop blueberries or have a calf born on the property you can claim you are a farmer and have the land taxed as agricultural instead of as a large house executive estate.

“Last year, a Globe and Mail investigation found wealthy investors bought farmland in Richmond without any intention of farming and took advantage of tax incentives to pay meagre property taxes while, in some cases, operating illegal hotels. The investigation found local and foreign buyers enjoy large tax breaks meant to encourage farming. Last week, Richmond councillors voted to ban short-term rentals such as Airbnb.”

One of the City Councillors Harold Steves said “so-called monster homes built in 2015 on the ALR surged in size to an average of 12,087 square feet, compared with 7,329 square feet in 2010.” In a report expected to create a lot of controversy staff will be regulating house size and set backs as well as the size of other buildings on the properties contained in the ALR. The Province and the Agricultural Commission do not provide regulations across the province, instead assuming that each municipality will limit the size of estate houses on ALR farmland.

Consultation meetings will be held in March. Options include limiting floor area to 5,382 square feet for a principal residence based upon provincial guidelines, or using Delta’s zoning guidelines restricting building size to 3,552 square feet on lots smaller than 20 acres. Given the  importance of maintaining the richest agricultural lands in Canada, Richmond will work to minimize residential development on agricultural lands and increase farm viability” . Kudos to the City of Richmond for doing the right thing.


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  2. I find the rationale of the builders / designers and buyers of these faux castles and collagen estates more offensive than the rationale behind the Trump Tower. Inflated square footage is the antithesis of material quality. However, these cheaply built plaster palaces will likely deteriorate faster, so there is some long-term justice to these insulting misinterpretations of land law.

  3. So you know incase you intend on following up. Richmond so far has not done the right thing. They have approved a bylaw allowing homes of 10,700 sq ft on lots over 1/2 acre. This is not progress and is double the Ministry ALR guidelines.
    Editor’s Note: Yes and that will be followed up on in a new post. Thank you.

  4. Foreign buyers behave rationally. They buy where there are low taxes and enormous value upside ( ideally tax free) i.e. single family houses in good locations with large land attached to it, and now land with houses on them, ie “farmland”. We need to wake up and assume people are not stupid, but rational, especially if they can write cheques worth millions. Don’t ban foreign money, just monetize it better.
    This means:
    A) attach a SIN or corp number to every real estate sale
    B) raise property taxes, say triple, and rebate the difference to today to Canadian income tax filers
    C) enforce taxes on sale or assignment of contracts
    Much tax leakage here in BC but also GTA. The source of foreign money is hard to track. If a wire arrive from the Cayman’s or Belize, how does one know it is legit ? It may once from Russia, or Iran or China, via U.K. Channel Islands or Bermuda, and it may or may not be dirty, stolen, extorted, illegal or grey. It might be legit. As such, tax it when it is converted into Canadaian real estate. We have the tools. Just use them better.
    If we tripled property taxes, and then rebates the difference to a local income tax filer, we did not need a vacancy tax or a farmland program.
    We ought to also question the need for tax breaks for farmland. We also ought to question if foreign owned farmland is in the best national interest. Why have an ALR but foreign owned farms ?