Court orders sale of Vantreight farm land in Central Saanich

Ian Vantreight is trying to keep his 129-year-old family farm despite a court-ordered sale that put all 384 acres on the market for $20.4 million.

The Central Saanich farm known for its daffodils and produce is being marketed in four chunks.

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Most of the property, 352 acres, is agricultural land. Another 32 acres is zoned for 57 water-view residential lots.

Bill Randall, of Cushman and Wakefield real estate brokers, said Thursday that the farm went on the market under a court-ordered sale.

His clients are Michael Vantreight, Ian’s brother, and HSBC Bank.

Michael could not be reached. Ian would not discuss financial details.

Ian bought out Michael after a heated court battle over the farm’s future after their father died in 2000.

The residential lots are “an absolutely spectacular site,” said Randall, adding that there is no reason homes “respectful of the environment” cannot be built there.

Ian Vantreight said he is not giving up on farming despite the listing and hopes to keep the land in the family so that his son Ryan can continue farming.

“I’m working on a plan to deal with the latest challenge,” he said.

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual for the farmers, who are harvesting 100 acres of daffodils, he said.

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Vantreight land for sale at $20.4 million

Vantreight Farms

Vantreight Farms, one of the largest on the Saanich Peninsula, is on the market for $20.4 million under a court order to sell its 384 acres.

This is the second time that courts have stepped in to sell the land. Ian Vantreight and brother Michael squared off in 2005, leading a B.C. Supreme Court justice to order the farm into receivership. The following year, an agreement was reached that saw Ian buy out Michael’s share of the land.

Now the farm is once again for sale.

Vantreight Farms is known for producing millions of daffodils every year, along with fields of other flowers, and a wide range of vegetables and fruit.

Cushman and Wakefield real estate agent Bill Randall said the clients in the court-ordered listing are Michael Vantreight and HSBC Bank.

Details of their roles in the sale were not immediately available.

A total of 352 acres of agricultural land is for sale.

The farm’s properties will be initially marketed locally and on the Lower Mainland, Randall said Thursday. “I think there will be pretty good interest. This is a beautiful site.”

At $15.75 million, the largest package includes the Hill, consisting of 32 acres zoned for 57 residential lots, mostly overlooking Haro Strait. This grouping of property includes 286.6 acres of agricultural land.

Three more agricultural sites are for sale at $1.525 million, $1.55 million, and $1.6 million.

Ian, 61, does not want to see the land sold. He said he is working “very long hours” to develop a plan to save the farm, founded in 1884. “It’s one more hurdle that we need to somehow overcome.”

Michael Vantreight couldn’t be reached for comment on Thursday.

After becoming sole owner, Ian launched a controversial and ultimately successful plan to rezone a rocky outcropping to create the residential subdivision.

He said then that the rezoning was necessary to raise money to pay off debts resulting from the purchase.

A rural-protection group called the Ratepayers of Central Saanich opposed the rezoning, taking the matter to B.C. Supreme Court on the grounds that the rezoning contravened the official community plan. The court refused to hear the case.

Now, Sue Stroud, an executive member of the Ratepayers group, is “very sad” the property is on the market.

“It just underscores our concern that once you rezone a property, a person can sell and you’re stuck with whatever happens.”

Having the Hill zoned residential removes a buffer between North Saanich and Vantreight Farms, she said.

Homeowners close to farms are often upset by the noise, smell and mess of farming, she said.

“Then they come to council and create more pressure on farmers, which ultimately ends up driving some people out of farming,” Stroud said.

“When somebody sprays manure fertilizer, look out. “That’s not what someone sees when they’re looking at a house. They just see Mount Baker and go ‘Wow.’ ”

Ian’s son Ryan is a passionate farmer and advocate of locally produced food. He has 165,000 square feet of certified organic land in greenhouses and this year aims to reach 150 acres of certified organic outdoor land.

The latest challenge facing the farm spotlights the problems facing local farmers.

“We are profitable now for the first time since digging out of the hole that was left after the court battle,” Ian said.

In September, a massive blaze raced through a storage area on the farm, destroying the building and nearby equipment.

The farm is seeking permission for a 50-metre-high communications tower on the farm. It would bring in revenue through leases to various carriers.

Factors working against the farm’s financial viability include the high cost of operations, water and natural gas, Ian said.

“We are behind the eight ball before we get out of the starting gate.”

Local farmers compete with produce grown globally. “My grandfather used to compete with his next-door neighbour,” he said.

Bryce Rashleigh, of Saanichton Farm, said he’s been cutting hay on Vantreight land for several years. “If they’re not there, then there’s a loss of income for me.”

This situation emphasizes the “huge challenge” of farming in an area where land prices are so high, Rashleigh said. Local farmers sell their products at prices similar to farmers with far lower land costs.

Higher land value creates a “brutal” situation for families who want to pass farms on to the next generation. That’s because of the difficulty in raising enough money to buy the other out, he said. When that can’t happen, family farms can be lost.

— With a file from Katherine Dedyna

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