A simple recap?

People often mention that the Garden City Lands issue is complicated. It is time to try again to simplify it. How is the following attempt at a current summary? All constructive advice is welcome, either in a comment below this blog post or via email to the Coalition. (Apparently we have a shy readership, since they mainly go the email route, but informative blog comments are nice to get too.)

The Garden City Lands, Richmond, BC, are a 55-hectare (136-acre) green space on the east side of the City Centre area. About 2 km south of the Oak Street Bridge, the lands stretch from Alderbridge Way to Westminster Highway and from Garden City Road to No. 4 Road.

Although it looks placid, the green space is the centre of a values clash: development for vast immediate profit versus conservation with environmental and food-security aims for long-term community value.

In 2005, the federal government entrusted the property to the federal land disposer, Canada Lands Company, for uses described in a memorandum of agreement (MOU).

Under that agreement, the company and the Musqueam Indian Band planned to split the profits from rezoning of at least half the property for high-density construction. The City of Richmond hoped to get the rest, which would have been scattered throughout the lands.

The property has been in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) ever since the ALR was established over thirty-five years ago to protect BC’s scarce farmland, which was being lost to uses that increased short-term worth at the expense of long-term food security.

The ALR has been continuously both widely supported and widely threatened. The desirability of food security has been obvious enough, but the prospect of windfall profits from changing farmland into residential and commercial land was a powerful motivator to chip away at the reserve.

In 2006, the Agricultural Land Commission rejected Canada Lands Company’s first application to remove the property from the ALR. The commission said that it is fertile farmland and the applicant had not even shown community needs for the land.

The company, band, and city then began a second application to remove the property from the ALR, this time a massive 16-month undertaking with the city as the nominal applicant, as it would have greater credibility with the commission. The company (Canada Lands) retained full control as project manager for the application.

In 2007, citizens reported that the project’s phone “survey” about the reapplication with 508 residents made false statements, manipulating opinion under the guise of gathering it. That was evidently an eye-opener that prompted rapid growth in public awareness about the issue.

Community groups brought forward alternative plans such as the Richmond Sustainable Food Systems Park, a proposed agricultural park that would facilitate urban agriculture education, feed the needy, and give city dwellers space to grow food, enjoy trails around a reservoir lake, and come together in a tranquil setting. Some envisioned it as an idyllic place for tai chi.

In early 2008, citizens and groups who wanted to keep the space green for community values formed the Garden City Lands Coalition Society to facilitate effective action.

In February 2008, citizens reported that the ALR-removal project’s open houses and a related survey were misleading the public about the reapplication. In particular, the stated premise of a survey question that solicited approval was that the proposed development would be “Smart Growth.” In a subsequent letter to Richmond council, the executive director of Smart Growth BC explained why it would definitely not be Smart Growth.

In March 2008, citizens addressed Richmond council in a six-day public hearing, with a strong majority urging council not to put forward the reapplication to the Agricultural Land Commission.

When the reapplication went ahead anyway, almost two thousand citizens signed a petition to the Agricultural Land Commission asking it to keep the Garden City Lands in the ARL.

Citizens also sent almost two hundred detailed submissions to the Agricultural Land Commission, with well over ninety percent opposed, principally arguing that community needs would be better met with the property kept in the ALR, not removed and also making the case that the proposed development would cause a major loss for food security and the environment.

Political support for saving the Garden City Lands has progressively grown, with clear support from the Richmond East MLA from the beginning, landslide victories for supportive MP candidates in both Richmond ridings in October 2008 (with a landslide defeat for one pro-development incumbent MP), and then an election-aided Richmond council shift to a pro-conservation majority at the end of 2008.

In February 2009, the Agricultural Land Commission rejected the reapplication to remove the Garden City Lands from the ALR. The commission confirmed the property’s agricultural potential and did not comment at all on the applicant’s lengthy community-need arguments, implicitly indicating they had no merit.

Since Canada Lands Company had argued that the property is not suitable for agriculture because parts were debilitated by federal uses, the commission essentially said that the owner should rehabilitate them.

The effect is that the high-density development is not permitted, so that aspect of the basic agreement cannot be met.

Under that Garden City Lands agreement (the MOU), Canada Lands Company, the Musqueam Indian Band, and the City of Richmond are expected to renegotiate conditions that cannot be met.

If the renegotiation is not successful, the company and band can terminate the agreement, but only after the four parties, which include the federal government, first cooperate to restore each to the position it was in before entering the agreement. The federal government’s position was that it owned the lands.

Since the company, as a land disposer, will not want to be the Garden City Lands caretaker longer than it has to, the property’s status will change in one way or another. The Garden City Lands Coalition is continuing to work to ensure that the property will remain green with ecological and food-security uses for community benefit. 

Citizens can help by finding ways to positively influence Canada Lands Company, the City of Richmond, the Musqueam Indian Band, the federal government, and the provincial government.

Public awareness is increasing that the company has a mandate to ensure optimal benefit for local communities in all its dealings and “enhance the quality of life in local communities” and that it proclaims values of transparency and corporate social responsibility.

Since there is a wide perception of a gap between the company’s professed values and actual conduct with the Garden City Lands, advocates of keeping the lands green for community benefit are increasingly calling for the company to act with and for the community.




  1. 1
    Margaret Says:

    Thanks, Jim

    This will help in “kitchen table” dialogue.

  2. 2
    Bruno Says:

    This write-up has helped me get a much better grasp on what really went on for the last 4 years. Thank you!

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