Critics are calling for the province to step in after a Metro Vancouver city council opted not to block mega-mansions from protected agricultural land early Tuesday morning.
It was after midnight when Richmond representatives voted against a proposal to limit the size of homes on farmland, following hours of feedback and discussion.
Councillors were considering capping the maximum size at 5,382 square feet, an amendment put forward by Coun. Harold Steves based on provincial guidelines.
The current maximum house size for the city's agricultural land reserve (ALR) is 10,764 square feet, a limit set in Richmond last year. ALR is a provincially designated land-use zone making up about five per cent of the province's land base.
After more than five hours of back-and-forth, council decided not to limit the size of homes at all. Council also approved a motion to allow owners of lots between eight and 25 hectares to build an additional home on their lots up to a maximum size of 3,229 square feet.
"So you can actually have about 14,000 square foot of housing on the site, which probably will increase the value of the property," Steves said following the vote.
The decision was supported by some farmers who say the large houses are meant to hold big, multi-generational families.
"The community wins. The farming community has some sense of certainty," said ALR landowner Roland Hoegler after the decision.
But others, including the councillor who pushed for the size limit, feel the mansions eat up valuable land and cause prices to spike.
"It puts it totally out of the realm of any young person going farming in Richmond," Steves said.
"We've actually upped the ante and increased the speculative value of land."
A member of Richmond Farm Watch said the group of citizens was very disappointed by the decision.
"We think actually the mayor expressed it very well when he said, 'This is something that cannot be undone and that Richmond will regret for many, many years,'" John Roston said.
Once built, the mansions will outlast those who made the decision, he said, and will be a big obstacle to those trying to start their farming careers.
He said they now plan to move their campaign to the provincial level and will be spending time with the NDP and Greens, trying to come up with a solution.
Young people being priced out of farming is an issue already on the radar of the provincial agriculture minister.
"If that price of that land is too high, the one thing that guarantees is that farming won't be happening," Lana Popham said Tuesday.
She said an independent review of how agriculture lands are managed is underway, though she stopped short of suggesting house size caps could be on the horizon.
"This issue is very concerning to me provincially… There is a problem. It's not just Richmond, it's a problem going across the province."
Decisions around housing and business permits currently lie with local governments. The Green Party says options such as the application of the foreign buyer tax and a ban on foreign ownership could address speculation issues immediately.
"This is something we don't need to consult, this is something we need to take action on," MLA Adam Olsen said.
The province anticipates a change of rules coming in the fall.
At the same time, local politicians may be facing voters who are angry over the issue. Steves said his fight isn't over, and told those opposed to the decision to look ahead to the municipal election in October.
"It's going to be wild… The citizens of Richmond will decide," he said.
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Bhinder Sajan