Reflections about the May 11 meeting

The three posts below this one describe a May 11, 2009, Richmond council meeting about Richmond’s input to Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy. Four Garden City Lands Coalition members made short presentations. My mind is now back on the topic because there’s a Regional Growth Strategy public consultation tonight. (It’s at the Richmond Cultural Centre, as shown in the public consultation calendar.)

A common thread in what the Coalition members proposed at the council meeting was the goal of strengthening the protection of agricultural land in Metro Vancouver. The Regional Growth Strategy draft already proposes harmonizing agricultural land protection, and we supported that. For ideal harmonizing, all land that is agricultural under city zoning and/or the provincial Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) should also be designated as agricultural on Metro Vancouver’s economic areas map.

The harmonized protection of agricultural land protection would still have a limitation that the federal government can legally ignore it, but the united front of the individual Metro city plus Metro Vancouver plus the provincial ALR would be a tremendous help in getting the federal government to heed the interests of Richmond in protecting land that has agricultural potential.

By the way, Mayor Malcolm Brodie, with a different view, expressed his opposition to designating land as agricultural in the Regional Growth Strategy because he wanted autonomy for Richmond in land use decisions. That would strengthen the power of Richmond mayors, but it would weaken the power of Richmond.

My biggest concern arose from comments by Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt. She specifically opposed designating the Garden City Lands as agricultural in Metro Vancouver’s economic areas map because she did not want to limit the ways the city can use the land if the city obtains it. Actually, almost all the green-space uses that citizens have proposed are possible within the ALR, so I was at first at a loss to understand her perceived problem.

On further thought, I’ve realized that the councillor must want to try again to get to get the lands out of the ALR for construction. That would put the citizens through another long struggle.

My concern is that the apparent intention will artificially cause the land value to skyrocket. Since the Agricultural Land Commission’s decision of February 2009, it has been very clear that the Garden City Lands are firmly in the ALR and therefore have ALR land value. That’s relevant because Richmond is beginning to negotiate to obtain the whole Garden City Lands property. The councillor (along with any others expressing similar views) could cause the price to go beyond the ALR-land land value to a price that citizens would want not want the city to pay.

Even as it is, some citizens say they will oppose any payment beyond the nominal price of one dollar, since the Garden City Lands have always been the people’s lands. I think, though, that most would support paying the ALR value, which would be the “fair market value” of $9.54 million stated in the Garden City lands agreement that is the basis for the current negotiations.

If things keep going down the wrong path, in time we could be back to another version of the dreadful purchase agreement that expired at the end of December 2008. The prospect of high-density urban sprawl on the lands would again rear its ugly head. The odds are high that new Pave Garden City efforts would be eventually be stopped, but the citizens of Richmond and all the supportive people beyond Richmond should not be put through the wringer  again. Enough already!

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