Farmers applaud new restrictions on mega-homes

Farmers on the Saanich Peninsula hope incoming legislation that will restrict mega-homes on protected farmland will prevent speculators from scooping up land they have no intention of farming.

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham introduced a bill Monday that would limit the maximum size of a home in the Agricultural Land Reserve to 5,400 square feet.

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“Based on the legislation brought forward by Minister Popham, I think it’s a step in the right direction by limiting the size of those houses,” said Mickey Aylard, a fourth-generation dairy farmer whose family runs Brackenhurst Farm in North Saanich.

“It’s definitely going to be staving off some of those investors who are coming in to buy land and build a mansion and not actually using it for farming.”

Aylard said even though the Saanich Peninsula has not seen mega-mansions popping up to the extent seen in Richmond, urban sprawl continues to be a problem.

“The biggest challenge is encroaching urbanization,” she said, noting there are now two dairy farmers on the Peninsula, down from 20 a few decades ago. “It just continues to sprawl and where they get the land to build these houses is agricultural land.”

Aylard’s family rents more than 50 acres of land to grow feed for the 100 dairy cows, but every year, the available land shrinks because of new homes being built, she said.

Homes larger than 5,400 square feet could be allowed if the Agricultural Land Commission deems it’s necessary for farming.

Grain farmer Bryce Rashleigh, who runs Saanichton Farm, said he can see where exceptions might be made for families who have several generations of farmers living in one home.

However, in most cases “true agriculture doesn’t need a monster house,” he said. “If you get down to my lifestyle, I don’t live in my house, I live in my farm.”

Municipalities will also have the power to restrict home sizes below the provincial maximum.

Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor said councillors had considered setting a 10,000-square-foot limit for homes on agricultural land, but he was reluctant to institute a one-size-fits all model.

North Saanich Mayor Geoff Orr said the municipality has had some large homes built on agricultural land, but not a proliferation of mega-mansions. “That’s not to say it can’t move that way,” he said, which is why it’s important not to be complacent.

Rashleigh believes the legislation, if passed, will be crucial to keeping land costs affordable for new farmers.

Aylard, 26, agreed that the rising land costs are hugely prohibitive for young farmers looking to gain a foothold in the agriculture industry.

“If I didn’t already have the land that my family has had this long, it would definitely be a really big obstacle for me entering into the industry,” she said.

“The one thing a mega-home ensures is that a young farmer will never be able to afford that land,” Popham said just after a ceremony in front of the legislature that recognized Nov. 6 as B.C. Agriculture Day.

Stan Vander Waal, president of the B.C. Agriculture Council, applauded the proposed legislation, which would restore ALR land to one zone across the province. The two-zone model was created by the previous B.C. Liberal government to account for different uses of farmland in different parts of the province.

The legislation would also restrict the dumping of soil fill, waste and construction debris on farmland, rules that would be enforced by a maximum fine of $1 million and six months in jail.

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