Garden City Lands

Vancouver Sun, September 23, 2008

Ever wonder what was happening with the huge empty field between Garden City and No. 4 Road to the west and east, and between Alderbridge and Westminster Hwy to the north and south.  The radio towers that were there for many years have gone and only flora and fauna cover the huge expanse.

Well, the land is being handled by Canada Lands Company.  It’s a federal corporation created to optimize the financial and community value of surplus properties no longer needed by the federal government.

It seems like the CLC and the City of Richmond are bent on developing the land.  At first glance, it seems to make sense.  There’s a large swath of land that is adjacent to Richmond’s city centre.  It makes sense to create a new community or a rumoured convention centre.

However, when we look at the bigger picture of agriculture, maybe it is not so simple.  There was a previous ruling by the Agricultural Land Commission that kept the land.  This was a good ruling for a few reasons:

  1. The ruling preserves a large area of land for agricultural purposes when hundreds of acres of been slowly removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve over the past decade.  Somebody is hoping no one will notice?
  2. It creates a new opportunity to reintroduce local farming to a different level within a (sub)urban environment.
  3. Puts pressure on the City of Richmond to do some smart development with some very unappealing and underutilized parcels of land along No. 3 Road, the heart of Richmond’s City Centre (i.e. Lansdowne Mall)

I think the most important thing is to preserve agricultural land in B.C.  It is quickly disappearing, especially in the Lower Mainland.  With different food scares from around the world, it is best that we secure our own safe food supply instead of relying on importing food from other countries.  We know what standards we want our food to live up to and preserving the ALR should be a provincial priority.

I am certainly no expert in agriculture or farming, so the viability of the Garden City Lands for agriculture is an unknown to me, but it could become something other than a farm that could promote agricultural endeavours in our province.

When the CLC cast its eye on the Garden City Lands, the community rallied. As everyone who lives there knows, Richmond already suffers a green space deficit that can only grow as the city expands. Public hearings brought forth a well-developed community plan for the property that included urban agriculture, allotment gardens, greenhouses, a farmers market, a community kitchen, composting areas, a heritage orchard with berries and fruit trees, an apiary, a small reservoir for water storage and habitat, walking trails, a tai chi area and sports fields.

Kwantlen College — fast becoming Canada’s top authority on integrated pest management and agro-ecological practices — offered to partner with the City of Richmond to construct an urban agriculture research and education centre, ideally located on-site.

A perfect fit, no? CLC’s vision statement promises that it will “… enhance the quality of life in communities where the company conducts business.”

Think again. As ALR land, the property is assessed at just over $100,000 an acre. Removed from the ALR, value jumps to an estimated $4 million to $5 million an acre.

This venture is more about making a bigger buck for the land rather than thinking of what would be a great gem for the community of Richmond and all of Metro Vancouver.  If there is no true study of whether the land is viable for farming or not, then we should not remove the land unless the viability is proven or disproven.

By the way, the Agricultural Land Commission has a detailed listing of what is going on with the current application by the City of Richmond to exclude the Garden City Lands.  The page is complete with maps and letters from the public.

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