Two BC landowners have lost their bids to classify their land as farms after inspections revealed little to no agricultural activity was actually taking place.
The province’s Appellate Body for Land Valuation found in separate decisions posted online last week that there is a financial advantage to classifying a property as a farm.
“When land is classified as a farm, it is not valued at its actual (or fair market) value, rather the land is valued and valued in accordance with the provisions of the Land Values for Farm Land Regulation,” the board wrote.
“These mandated values generally result in a significant reduction in property appraisal compared to what would otherwise be the fair market value of the property, and in turn, a significant reduction in property taxes. In this case, the board has repeatedly emphasized that it is the responsibility of the property owner to strictly comply with the regulatory requirements for the classification of farms.”
THE LANGLEY PROPERTY
In the first case before the board, Wilhelm Verheyden appealed the classification of his 9.79-acre property as a mix of commercial and residential and the estimated value of $3,554,000.
By 2021, the board said, the property had been classified as a farm “due to its alleged use as a trout farm.” But the surveyor noted that the license to operate a trout farm had expired a decade ago.
“Despite this lack of lawful operating authority, the complainant continued to allege that he operated a trout farm and reported revenue to the assessor associated with that trout farm in 2014, 2016 and 2018,” the decision reads.
Upon inspection, the surveyor confirmed that there was no active trout farming.
However, Verheyden claimed that the property – which houses “two dwellings and a barn used for non-agricultural purposes” – is currently operated as a nursery.
The board’s decision noted if and when Verheyden decided to change the “fundamental nature of his proposed farm” and he would have had to reapply for farm designation. It also states that he eventually did so, but that the request was denied.
The board said a site visit found a few hundred plants and trees in pots and planters on the property, but ultimately there was “no active nursery operations”.
The board determined that the property was probably used as “an interim storage facility for plants and trees” by Verheyden’s son, who runs a landscaping business.
THE PROPERTY BOWEN ISLAND
In the second case, Jose Claudio Barron appealed the classification of a 46-acre “substantially vacant lot” on Bowen Island that had been valued as a residential property valued at $1,453,000.
In 2014, Barron successfully applied for the land to be designated as a farm that would grow trees, herbs and vegetables, according to the board. While an inspection the following year revealed “high planting mortality”, it continued to be classified as a developing farm.
However, an inspection of the property in 2021 found that “no legitimate farming activities are currently taking place”.
The first problem identified was access. The surveyor reported to the Board that there is no road to the property and that it is not served by water or utility lines. To get to the piece of land, the decision said, would require a challenging hike.
“To access the property, the surveyor undertook a hike of more than 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the fitness level of the person, which “can only be accomplished on foot, with some sections requiring helping hands due to the steep terrain and obstacles, ‘ and it required a ‘strenuous exertion (due to) strenuous elevation changes'”.
While Barron said he used a different, more easily navigable route to access his land, the board said it was still too difficult to have “practical” access for a farm.
The board also noted that the land itself was not viable for agriculture, although Barron argued that “a large portion of this property produces Christmas trees, organic herbs, fruit, potatoes and garlic.”
Although there was some evidence of planting and some wild vegetation, nothing was being grown to a “commercially viable level,” according to the board.
“I am satisfied that this property cannot currently be classified as an agricultural holding – if it ever was,” concluded the panel’s chair.