The issue in brief

It’s time to tell it simply. This blog goes into a lot of depth about a complex issue, but this post is a basic overview. It tells the story of the past five years, along with the challenge that remains today. About six hundred words from now, I hope you’ll have a strong sense of the issue.

The Garden City Lands story

The Garden City Lands are a 136-acre green space in the City Centre of Richmond, BC. They are bordered by Garden City Road, Westminster Highway, No. 4 Road, and Alderbridge Way.

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

In 2005, the Garden City Lands were surplus federal property entrusted to the federal land disposer, Canada Lands Company, for uses described in a memorandum of understanding (MOU).

The company and the Musqueam Indian Band planned to split the profits from getting the Garden City Lands out of the ALR and rezoning at least half the property for high-density construction. The City of Richmond hoped to buy the rest, scattered throughout the lands.

In 2006, BC’s Agricultural Land Commission rejected Canada Lands Company’s first application to remove the property from the ALR. The commission said it is fertile farmland suitable for agriculture.

Canada Lands Company then began a massive second application to remove the property from the ALR. It remained the project manager but used the City as the nominal applicant for credibility.

In 2007, the project’s phone “survey” of 508 residents was shown
to have made false statements, manipulating opinion under the guise of gathering opinion. That prompted growth in public awareness.

Community groups proposed alternatives such as the Richmond Sustainable Food Systems Park. It would facilitate urban agriculture education and feed the needy. It would also give city dwellers space to grow food, to enjoy trails around a reservoir lake, and to get together—and, in some visions, do tai chi—in a tranquil setting.

In early 2008, citizens and groups who wanted to keep the space green for community values formed the Garden City Lands Coalition to facilitate effective action. It soon incorporated as a society.

In February 2008, citizens reported that the ALR-removal project’s open-house survey had misled the public about the reapplication. The survey question that solicited public support even claimed at great length that the proposed development was “Smart Growth.” The executive director of Smart Growth BC then sent Richmond Council a letter making clear it was definitely not Smart Growth.

In March 2008, citizens addressed Richmond Council in a six-day public hearing. A strong majority urged council not to put forward the reapplication to the Agricultural Land Commission. When the public were ignored, almost two thousand citizens signed a petition to keep the Garden City Lands green in the ALR.

Citizens sent hundreds of detailed submissions to the Agricultural Land Commission. Ninety-six percent of the people and groups who made submissions opposed the application.

Political support for saving the Garden City Lands kept growing—to include both of Richmond’s Members of Parliament, the Richmond East provincial MLA, and six of the nine Richmond Council members.

In February 2009, the Agricultural Land Commission rejected the reapplication to remove the Garden City Lands from the ALR.

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

The Garden City Lands as a challenge today

Some back-and-forth occurred until the City purchased the lands for $59.17 million on March 31, 2009. On April 9, the Musqueam, who had got half the $49 million profit, sued the City to get more.

Another obstacle is that some council members who had fought for high-density development on the lands seem to have not given up. If the lands lose their ALR protection, they will not stay green. As well, any attempt to remove the lands from the ALR might be construed—in costly legal action against the City—as evidence of bad faith.

Now the challenge for citizens is to ensure a good ending.

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