photo courtesy of Maple Ridge Photo blog
In the sleepy suburb of Pitt Meadows, located about 25 km due east of downtown Vancouver, the issue of farmland protection and homeowner rights have flared up once again, along with inflammatory charges of "communism" at City Council. It's a familiar story across Canada as cities grapple with balancing the need to protect precious farmland while finding enough space to accommodate a burgeoning population.
The City of Pitt Meadows is proposing a bylaw that will restrict the size and placement of homes on farmland to protect that land for future farming activities.
CityCaucus.com has obtained a copy of a letter which former city councillor Jan Elkerton fired off to her former colleagues on Pitt Meadows council regarding this issue. In it she states "...there are residents at risk of losing their homes if this bylaw is implemented as is."
In an interview with CityCaucus.com, Elkterton states thats hundreds of homeowners throughout Pitt Meadows are banding together to sign petitions and make sure their voices are heard.
Pitt Meadows is not unlike a number of Vancouver suburbs that are trying to limit the encroachment of residential properties on scarce farmland. In neighbouring Mission, for example, there is the controversial Silverdale development which is covered ably here by my CityCaucus.com colleague Mike Klassen.
According to Elkerton, if the proposed bylaw is passed, many homeowners like herself will struggle to find adequate home insurance. Her research indicates that some residents may be refused outright.
However, Mayor Don MacLean, an insurance broker himself, argues this new bylaw is intended to protect farmland and ensure the integrity of the provincial agricultural land reserve.
"Two financial institutions stated that the retroactive nature of designating properties as 'non-conforming' and not grandfathering existing structures in regards to reconstruction would impact mortgage rates and availability," says Elkerton who stepped down from Council in January for health reasons.
In her "final plea" to council, Elkerton writes "at the minimum, protect our taxpayers by grandfathering all existing building and structures, and not just the current property owner in the proposed FHP Bylaw. It will not cost our municipality a cent and is the fair thing to do."
According to Elkterton, the bylaw could force homeowners impacted by a fire to rebuild their homes from their current foundations and move them closer to the road. This is in addition to a new regulation that now requires new homes on the flood plain to be built 2.45 metres above sea level, rather than the previous 1.83 metres.
She claims the increased costs of building these new foundations would eat into the limits of homeowner insurance policies. "When you add demolition and reconstruction of a new septic system with moving services, the bills would exceed $100K, not counting the landscaping."
At the recent open house held by the city to discuss the proposed bylaw, people were so angry some openly claimed this was an act of "communism" by their local government.
Word on the street is that the Province of BC may be soon be asked to step in and act as referee in this thorny debate, but don't expect a resolution anytime soon.