Intro to Digging Deep

Digging Deep is mainly about the Garden City Lands, prime farmland in British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). The lands are located in Richmond, B.C., an island city on fertile soil that the Fraser River left bit by bit for millenia as it widened and slowed where it met the sea, the Gulf of Georgia, between Vancouver and the Canada-U.S. border.

Much of Richmond was once farmland, and large parts still are, although developers place continual pressure on it. Since the 1970s, ALR-consuming development has been limited by the Agricultural Land Commission, the BC agency that is the guardian of the ALR. The commission’s purpose is to keep agricultural land available for food production as needs increase—now and for BC’s future generations.

The Garden City Lands are located between Richmond’s high-density city centre, which now officially includes them, and nature lands stretching far to the east. The area to the south that was semi-rural has become highly developed in recent years, and the semi-rural area to the north is following. Were it not for a happy accident of history, the Garden City Lands would have gone the same way. However, the lands were kept for Coast Guard transmission towers that dotted the 136 acres.

When the towers became obsolete, the Garden City Lands became surplus for federal purposes. For several years, the lands were owned by Canada Lands Company, with the Musqueam Indian Band holding a beneficial inerest. As joint partners, they aimed to rezone the lands for very high-density residential construction, with the City of Richmond getting parcels scattered through the property that would provide green space for the development, though not enough new green space to come close to satisfying the city’s own standards.

If the development had brought in only 12,000 extra residents, meeting the standards would have required 92 additional acres of parkland. In the basic agreement, the City had the right to get (at an ALR-land price) only 35% for green space and other amenities. That’s less than 48 acres—obviously too little. In the basic configuration, 50% went to high-rises and the other 15% went to more devlopment, a trade and exhibition centre. That centre turned out not to be financially viable, even on ALR-priced land. 

With the help of agreements with the City and the Musqueam Indian Band, which has a beneficial interest in the property, Canada Lands expected to persuade the Agricultural Land Commission to remove the lands from the ALR. The commission said No. Canada Lands would not take No for an answer and kept trying. However, most Richmond residents had no wish to pave the farmlands and add to urban sprawl and traffic congestion.

The pro-development side of the Garden City Lands question was financed by the powerful parties to the would-be development, while the grassroots conservation side has been unfunded. The message that reaches the public often needs to be questioned so that the truth can come to light.

In order to unearth and share the truth, a concerned Richmond resident, Jim Wright, researched and wrote Digging Deep, a series of columns for the Richmond Review. They are the numbered pages in this Garden City Lands blog. The blog also includes posts, which keep the content current and add further depth.

Also visit the Garden City Lands Coalition’s basic website.

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