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Monster homes grow unchecked in Vancouver’s rural heart

Jennifer Maynard is on a mission to protect some of Vancouver’s last agricultural land. Maynard is a long-time resident of…

By Shannon Dooling , in Life , on November 25, 2010 Tags: , ,

Cars share the road with horses in Southlands

Jennifer Maynard is on a mission to protect some of Vancouver’s last agricultural land.

Maynard is a long-time resident of the Southlands, a unique rural area in the heart of Vancouver.

She is fighting to stop the encroachment of luxury homes in a part of the city that still has horses sharing the roads with cars.

Her struggle is part of a larger global trend that is seeing up-scale residential development threaten agricultural areas, said Andrew Rushmere, academic coordinator at the University of British Columbia Farm.

Rushmere said the “same pattern” exists all over the world because as development pressures increase and taxes rise, farming large parcels of land becomes unaffordable, while selling it as residential property becomes more profitable.

Since 2005, the benchmark selling price of a home in Southlands has more than doubled to nearly $1.9 million from $914,694. Nearby Marpole meanwhile, where acreage is harder to come by, has seen a benchmark selling price of a single family home at $977,000 this year.

“There is no policy mechanism in place…to combat agricultural land from being absorbed for development,” said Rushmere.

And that’s what residents are concerned about.

Harvesting mansions

Maynard is on a mission to preserve the agricultural heritage of Southlands

Southlands rests 15 minutes outside of downtown Vancouver, along the fertile banks of the Fraser River, roughly bordered by SW Marine Drive to the north, Macdonald Street on the west and Blenheim Street on the east.

The community’s rural identity has its roots in agriculture and has been protected since 1973 as a provincial Agricultural Land Reserve, which means that agriculture is considered priority use.

Thomas Hobbs, owner of Southlands Nursery, said he has recently noticed a change to bigger houses in the construction of newer homes.

“Old rotting stables and funky places are being torn down and these opulent houses are going up,” Hobbs said, adding, “it’s a free world and money talks.”

Maynard and her family have lived in the Southlands for three generations and are now the only commercial farm left.

“All of a sudden we have some new people who just want a big house with a fancy address,” said Maynard, co-founder of the Friends of Southlands Society.

Other long-time residents of Southlands are taking note of the new estates. Larry Killam, a member of the Southlands Ratepayers Association, has noticed an influx of interest in local properties.

Southlands has been “discovered…because you can build a big house here,” said Killam.

Back to basics

Herb Babolet, a leading food activist in North America and an associate professor at Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Sustainable Community Development, said he too is concerned when “monster estates” are allowed on agricultural land.

Babolet is hopeful that the new chair of the Agricultural Land Commission appointed in June will uphold the commission’s commitment to preserving agricultural land and encouraging farming businesses.

“There’s a wind of change in the commission,” said Babolet.

For now, Maynard and her family have decided to buck the trend and broke ground for Southlands Heritage Farm in 2008. The farm is focused on a sustainable way to demonstrate to neighbours that true food security is available within the city.

Maynard believes that if the ALR status of Southlands comes under scrutiny due to the lack of farming in the community, then others would follow her lead back to small scale, intensive farming on the land.