Proposed new rules limiting the size of homes that can be built on agricultural are overly restrictive and will penalize wealthy farmers, says a realtor currently selling a 14,000-square-foot mansion.
Last month, the province announced that it intends to pass legislation that will ban the building of new mansions over 5,400 square feet on farmland unless the owners can show they will benefit agriculture. Most homes that have been built on agricultural land over the last three years would have been barred under the proposed new rules, which aim to discourage estate homes from gobbling up the region’s precious farmland.
This week, one such estate home – a 14,500-square-foot, six-bedroom, 10-bathroom house on King Road – went up for sale this week. The house is the fourth largest to ever be put up for sale in Abbotsford, according to realtor Jonathan Gelderman. The mansion was built by the owner of an adjacent farm. The home also functions as a bed-and-breakfast and has a ground floor with a commercial-style kitchen and rooms that can host conferences.
The cost of agricultural land in the Lower Mainland, Gelderman said, is that those who farm are either rich or have pooled their resources with extended family.
“To own a farm you have to be wealthy in the valley. You’re not going to get a five- or 10-acre farm, fully operational, without millions of dollars … so people here farming are wealthy and for you to tell a wealthy person they can’t have a nice home is insane,” he said.
Those who aren’t individually wealthy, but have bought land with extended family, are not allowed to build multiple non-modular homes on the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). Construction of single, larger houses is the natural result of that policy, Gelderman said.
He said a more effective means to ensure the productive use of ALR land would be to increase the amount of farm income a property owner needs to show in order to qualify for significant tax breaks.
“I know a lot of people – quote, unquote – farming in Abbotsford and the reason they farm – in quotes – is because they want to pay less property tax,” Gelderman said.
That so-called farming, he said, isn’t actually productive.
“If you took that threshold and bumped it up to … something meaningful, then what’s going to happen is, if they’re not actually operating a farm and you have to tax them on the full value of their estate, they’re going to be paying gobs of money.”
The province has said that the proposed changes may not be the end of new rules, and a panel aimed at “revitalizing” the ALR has highlighted the issue. The City of Abbotsford did the same in a letter to the Minister of Agriculture earlier this year. Meanwhile, Gelderman says the value of mansions like that which he is selling on King Road will only increase.