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HomeBusinessExclusive: Steves – “I didn’t want my brother to sell it in the first place”

Exclusive: Steves – “I didn’t want my brother to sell it in the first place”

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Bob Mackin

Richmond Coun. Harold Steves is disputing claims from a group that is aiming to defeat him in the Oct. 20 civic election.

The Richmond Farmland Owners Association, which opposes limits on farmland mansions, issued an Oct. 10 news release that called the outspoken farming advocate a hypocrite for being a “co-developer with a mega-home developer for a piece of land carved out of the Steves farm property.”

Steves, who has served continuously on council since 1977, said the association is wrong, because he couldn’t stop his relatives from selling a piece of land north of his farm in 2010 to Elegant Properties developer Jay Minhas.

Richmond Coun. Harold Steves at his Richmond farm (Mackin)

Steves was first an alderman from 1968 until 1973 when he was elected to the NDP government under Premier Dave Barrett and helped found the Agricultural Land Reserve. He sells eggs and grass-fed beef raised on his family farm at the west end of Steveston Highway, that he bought in 1981.

“It was zoned residential in 1969, it was subdivided into lots, I got an appraisal that it was $90,000 an acre residential value, farmland at that time was $5,000 an acre,” Steves said. “The land was owned by my father and four aunts and uncles. I bought it off them for $90,000 an acre, except I couldn’t afford the whole property, it was a lot of money back in 1981.”

He applied to cancel the subdivision and move the property line further north, but left 1.7 acres in family ownership. After his mother Maude died in 2002, he was among nine relatives who inherited the land.

In 2010, the Richmond Review reported under the headline “Change coming to Steves family farm,” that Minhas’s company had applied to subdivide a fallow 1.5-acre parcel owned by the Steves family at 10531 Springwood Crescent. Steves said it was not his choice, but his brother Robert Joseph Steves and the rest of his relatives who wanted to settle his mother’s estate.

“There’s not much I can do about it,” Steves said at the time. “I wouldn’t have done it, but I have no choice.”

Elegant Properties’ Jay Minhas (right) and Christy Clark.

The March 31, 2010 contract for the $442,500 sale lists Sean Lawson of Remax Westcoast in Richmond acting for the buyer, Elegant, and sellers, Harold, Bonita, Judith, Alice, Jeremy, Robin, Robert, Traci and Gregory Steves. An amended June 22, 2010 purchase contract was between four of the Steves — Judith, Robert, Traci and Gregory Steves — and Elegant. When the matter came to city council, Harold Steves declared a conflict of interest and recused himself. In early 2011, Elegant paid between $442,500 and $657,500 to the group of four named in the June 2010 contract, for each of the four lots after the subdivision was approved.

Said Steves: “I didn’t want my brother to sell it in the first place and definitely didn’t want him to sell it to Jay.

“They’re trying to make out that I’ve sold my property. It’s something I couldn’t afford to buy in the first place. Now nine people have inherited it and they want me to go take their inheritance away? I can’t do that.”

Steves said Minhas took advantage of a loophole to build three-storey houses instead of two-and-a-half. Minhas said he did everything within the bylaw.

Two of the houses built on land sold by Harold Steves’ relatives to Elegant Properties. (Mackin)

The main farm inside the dyke is zoned residential because it is less than the two-acre threshold to be included in the ALR. The other nine acres on the mudflats, where Steves’s belted Galloway cattle often graze, is a federally protected ecological reserve within Sturgeon Banks. The land qualifies for farm class under the Assessment Act.

“If it was in the ALR, I could build a barn out there, but in an ecological reserve I can’t.”

Steves still owns a one-fifth share of the empty lot at 10591 Springwood Cres, worth $1,691. His 10.5-acre property that includes a two-storey, 1932-built farmhouse, was assessed at $84,827.

Steves is running for re-election with the Richmond Citizens’ Association slate that joined in a coalition with RITE Richmond.

East Richmond-based RFOA is not registered with Elections BC as a third-party sponsor organization. The communications strategist behind the association is Aurora Advisory Group’s Gunraj Gill, who was the election day chair for Richmond-Queensborough BC Liberal MLA Jas Johal.

The RFOA news release included quotes from Ben Dhiman of the association and Parm Bains, a city council candidate with Richmond Community Coalition, who said he was a former elementary school student of Steves. Bains spent 14 years working in communications for the BC Liberal government, and was stationed at Premier Christy Clark’s Vancouver office.

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