After failing to harvest Christmas tree crop, Surrey land owners lose farm classification of property

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      In 2013, William and Lynne Kirsch applied to have their Surrey property classified as a farm.

      They said that it was going to be a farm for Christmas trees.

      In their application with the assessor’s office, the Kirsches indicated that they planted 3,500 Douglas fir trees in 2012.

      They also reported that an additional 1,000 Fraser first would be planted in 2013 and 2014.

      In 2015, they filed another report with the assessor, stating that in their first year of harvest in 2018, they expect to earn $80,000 from sales.

      Based on the size of the land they planted with Christmas trees, the Kirsches would be able to meet the income requirement under the province’s farm regulations.

      That amount is $2,500.

      The problem was that the Kirsches did not make what was supposed to be their first harvest in 2018.

      They reported zero income.

      Based on this, an assessor reclassified their 2.7-hectare land on 92 Avenue as residential.

      As a residential property, the land was valued at $5.4 million.

      These were recounted by Kenneth Wm. Thornicroft, a panel chair with the B.C. Property Assessment Appeal Board.

      The Kirsches have appealed the reclassification, and Thornicroft has issued a ruling that confirmed the assessor’s decision.

      Thornicroft recalled that an assessor visited the site in November 2018, and noted that some trees were ready to be harvested.

      The Kirsches claimed that the assessor had a “fiduciary duty” to advise them after the inspection that they were required to have and report an income for 2018.

      As Thornicroft related, the appellants said that they were “illegally entrapped”.

      According to them, they “could easily have met minimum sales requirements if they had only told us there was a problem”.

      However, Thornicroft was not persuaded.

      According to Thornicroft, the assessor does not have an obligation to look after the interest of property owners.

      “The Board has consistently held that ‘farm’ class is a preferential status and the burden lies on the property owner to specifically satisfy all of the various regulatory requirements that stand as pre-conditions to securing farm classification,” Thornicroft wrote.

      Why do some property owners want their land to be classified as a farm?

      It’s because the land’s property value is assessed lower than residential and commercial properties. This means lower property taxes.