Former East Delta cattle rancher forced to give up the farm
A long-time East Delta farmer is pulling up stakes and selling his property because he says he can no longer make money off the land.
Every one of Bob Robertson's neighbours make extra money storing vehicles or materials on their farms. But Robertson says he's been singled out by the Corporation of Delta and the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) for improper land use.
"There's numerous junk piles on farms, old cars, debris, on Delta and Surrey land," he explains. "And basically the ALC and Delta picked on me because I was the biggest, best, and cleanest."
A former cattle rancher and dairy farmer, Robertson at one time had 300 head of dairy, and 1,000 head of beef. He quit the business 14 years ago.
"The beef business, you can't make any money at it. They can import it from New Zealand for half the price."
Robertson has since been providing storage for people's cars, trucks, boats, motor homes and recreational vehicles.
Some of his clients were big companies, such as BC Conveying, Laidlaw, PavCo, Pacific Blasting, Bell-Con Electric, and BC Hot House.
Business was good, and Robertson grossed $360,000 last year. But the business is closed.
About five years ago Robertson says he was approached by representatives from the Corporation and ALC about improper land use, even though he pays taxes on the seven acres of storage at five times the farming rate. As well, Robertson says he only makes use of the footprint of the farm, and never stored any materials or vehicles on the land itself.
It irks Robertson, as he waves his hand around to neighbour properties with vehicles and construction materials parked in the fields, that he was singled out while others haven't been.
A recent B.C. Supreme Court ruling seems to have settled the issue for good, banning the farm as a permitted storage use.
Justice Deborah Kloegman ordered a prohibition on the storage of "vehicles, boats, recreational vehicles, trailers, and any other non-farm related property" not owned by Robertson or authorized by the ALC.
Robertson, now 60, has been at the property on Ladner Trunk Road just east of 104th Ave. since he was 23. When he built his first barn in 1975 it was one of the biggest in Delta. He still maintains every acre of arable land and says the entire plot is laser-levelled.
Now, he's put the farm up for sale, all 41.16 acres, two houses and 64,000-square-feet of buildings, and he's asking for $4.8 million ($117,000 per acre).
"I've decided to sell on my own," he states flatly. "It's my decision. Nothing else will pay and I'm not going to let the footprint and the buildings fall down."
Robertson has already had to let go seven tenants who rented buildings, and had the owners of 360 vehicles parked there drive them away. His farm is now virtually devoid of vehicles, well before the court-imposed Sept. 1 deadline.
Robertson says the shame of it is that the Corporation could have rezoned a portion of his property to CD-210 to allow for the storage, but wouldn't do it. He said other local businesses and farmers have the zoning amendment for things like wine, feed stores, and auto body shops.
After he sells the land, Robertson plans to go into real estate and rental properties that aren't controlled by the agricultural commission.
"The ALC acts like its 60 years ago. But times change."