The City of Richmond is considering a bylaw to restrict the size of homes built on the province's Agricultural Land Reserve.
A new report will be presented Tuesday to Richmond's planning committee, recommending a public meeting in March to discuss ALR-related issues such as limiting a new residence's footprint, also known as the farm home plate.
Richmond planning staff said in the report that "the issue of regulating house size, farm home plate and setbacks, as well as the size of residential accessory buildings in the ALR, is anticipated to be controversial."
Staff members recommend holding the March consultation meeting at Richmond City Hall and also seek comments that same month from the city's agricultural advisory committee that comprises mostly farmers.
"A proposed bylaw on house size will send a message to anybody wanting to build a big house on farmland who think they can have an illegal hotel on it. The message we want to get across is we don't want the big houses on small farms," Richmond councillor Harold Steves said in an interview on Sunday.
Mr. Steves said so-called monster homes built in 2015 on the ALR surged in size to an average of 12,087 square feet, compared with 7,329 square feet in 2010.
Planning staffers have devised four draft bylaw options: "Any new development will need to conform to the adopted bylaw, but existing development is acknowledged to be lawfully in existence before a new zoning bylaw comes into effect."
One of the bylaw options based on provincial guidelines would limit the floor area to 5,382 square feet for the principal residence. Another option based on Delta's zoning regulations would restrict the floor area to 3,552 square feet on lots smaller than 20 acres or 5,005 square feet on lots 20 acres or larger.
Richmond had sought to have the B.C. government establish provincewide rules to control house size and location within the ALR.
"Limiting ALR large house size is not unique to Richmond," the report said. "Many municipalities are facing the same problem in the province."
But the province's Agricultural Land Commission and the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture decided that instead of introducing provincewide regulations, the current system is sufficient for municipalities to start controlling the construction of huge homes.
That has prompted Richmond to draft proposals that would "minimize residential development on agricultural lands and increase farm viability" and "staff will prepare appropriate residential accessory building size options for public comment during the consultation," according to the report.
Last year, a Globe and Mail investigation found wealthy investors bought farmland in Richmond without any intention of farming and took advantage of tax incentives to pay meagre property taxes while, in some cases, operating illegal hotels. The investigation found local and foreign buyers enjoy large tax breaks meant to encourage farming.
Last week, Richmond councillors voted to ban short-term rentals such as Airbnb.
The B.C. government, which implemented a 15-per-cent tax on foreign home buyers in Metro Vancouver's residential sector in August, has said that it plans to study ways to collect more taxes from investors who buy farmland but sell little to no crops or livestock.
A paper last September by Metro Vancouver urged the province to increase the amount farms must produce to receive tax breaks.
The study by Richmond planners does not address taxation issues. In their analysis, they do warn of ever-increasing home sizes. "
Without provincial regulations to uniformly control the ALR maximum house size and location, house size trends in the ALR may increase," said the report signed by Richmond senior planner John Hopkins.
Terry Crowe, Richmond's manager of policy planning, is scheduled to speak about the report during Tuesday's planning committee meeting.