A private school in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) in Richmond needs approval from the province to both continue functioning and to expand.
Richmond City Council decided to forward the expansion application for Choices School for Gifted Children to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), but it is uncertain whether it will even be allowed to continue functioning as a school.
Choices School for Gifted Children Society bought a former church in 1992 on Westminster Highway and applied to rezone it, which the city allowed.
However, the school now wants to add on two more classrooms, and a city staff report about the application notes “an ALR non-farm use application is required to allow the existing education uses to continue and to construct a new classroom building.”
In a discussion at council on the merits of the application, Coun. Carol Day called the situation a “hot mess” but she said it should be up to the ALC to decide the fate of the school.
Coun. Chak Au said the school is providing an “important service” to the community, and he didn’t want to cause hardship on the students and families.
“We’re going to correct the situation by preventing future things (like this),” Au said.
Currently, Richmond’s “assembly” zoning allows for schools, but the ALC doesn’t.
Coun. Harold Steves, however, said the church was approved for construction in 1983, but not a school and he wouldn’t support the application because “the school shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”
Furthermore, Steves pointed out there used to be a blueberry farm on an adjacent property, but it had to stop spraying because it was next to a school and subsequently shut down.
Coun. Alexa Loo said she opposed the application earlier because of possible conflict between industrial agriculture on neighbouring properties and the school.
But she said she’d support the application if the school acknowledged in writing their neighbours are farmers in order to avoid future conflict.
The motion to forward the application to the ALC passed with Steves voting in opposition.