Weaver pushes foreign-buyer ban for B.C. farmland

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

NDP must send message that ?speculation will end sooner, rather than later,? says Green leader

Sam Cooper
The Province

B.C.’s government must fight raging land speculation by banning non-resident purchases of B.C. farmland and extending a residential foreign-buyer tax across the province, Green party Leader Andrew Weaver said Tuesday.

In an interview, Weaver said the introduction of Metro Vancouver’s 15-per-cent, foreign-buyer tax in July 2016 initially cooled markets, but quickly led to speculation in other areas, such as Lower Mainland farmland.

“It is critical we act,” Weaver said, noting shocking examples such as the listing reported in this story — a Surrey Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) property that is currently assessed at $3 million, but is advertised for sale at $37 million.

“The NDP need to start sending the market a message that the speculation will end sooner, rather than later,” Weaver said.

Weaver is proposing that foreign buyers be banned from buying parcels of farmland over a certain acreage. The limit would be lower in the Lower Mainland, he said.

“The problem is wealthy people, some from inside Canada and some from outside, are using agriculture reserve land for speculation.”

Other Canadian provinces such as Saskatchewan have foreign-owner restrictions for farmland, Weaver noted.

Postmedia News has reported that land-sale data shows farmland prices surged in the Fraser Valley after the residential, foreign-buyer tax was introduced.

The latest eye-popping ALR listing is in Surrey, in the 13,000-block Coulthard Road. The 24-acre property is mostly farmland-zoned, but has several acres zoned for residential use. It comes with an aging two-bedroom, two-bathroom bungalow.

Land records show owner Li Wang bought the property in May 2015 for $1.55 million. It’s now listed online for $37 million. The property was assessed at $1.98 million in 2016. It jumped to an assessed value of $2.96 million in 2017.

An ad from Royal Pacific Realty says the property has a “park-like forest setting.”

“It has an excellent redevelopment play or would make a great holding property,” the ad says. “Hold and build your dream country estates. Seller is designing a unique, concept-like theme park with castle quarter, mini golf course, man-made lake, fish pond with waterfall, fruit garden … Price reflects the value!”

Land documents say Li Wang’s owner address is at a Richmond furniture shop in the 4000-block No. 3 Road. An employee at the shop who answered Postmedia’s call Tuesday said Li Wang wasn’t available for comment.

Meanwhile, new NDP Housing Minister Selina Robinson has said the government must review data on measures such as the Metro foreign-buyer tax before considering whether to make any moves on housing affordability.

According to Weaver, the NDP campaigned with promises to tackle housing affordability, but have been too quiet since taking office. He said in the coming days he will announce plans to press the NDP into action.

Weaver said a farmland foreign-buyer restriction and residential tax extension could be rolled out almost immediately in B.C. Other reforms, such as new speculation tax measures or bans on obscure legal ownership structures, would require more time and planning, Weaver said.

Weaver’s anti-speculation message will put pressure on the NDP, which must rely on his support in an ongoing power-sharing deal. Without the support of the three Green MLAs, the 41-seat NDP government would be at risk of being toppled by the 43-seat Liberal opposition.

As Postmedia has reported, speculators can avoid the 15-per-cent tax on residential property by buying bare farmland and building a house on it, and there are also property-tax advantages. For example, an ad from Royal Pacific Realty advertises a small acreage in Richmond with building plans for a 12,000-square-foot mansion: “Set up your own private driving range, swimming pool or tennis court. It’s all permitted on ALR land and, because of the farm status, you pay no property tax,” the ad says.

© 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.

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