A standoff between Dirk Becker and Nicole Shaw, the owners of Compassion Farm, and the District of Lantzville council over urban agriculture is at a crossroads.
In July, Lantzville served Compassion Farm with a notice advising Becker and Shaw to come under bylaw compliance or face legal action.
In response, Becker and Shaw’s lawyer, William Andrews, sent council a note on Tuesday questioning the District’s use of its powers in what he calls a neighbourly disagreement.
Compassion Farm was cited last fall as operating in contravention to Lantzville’s zoning bylaw after a formal complaint was filed by a neighbour over manure odours, which was used to fertilize the farm’s garden.
Becker and Shaw were issued a 180-day cease and desist order, but continued to operate the residentially zoned property as an urban garden, prompting council to issue a legal threat to force compliance.
Andrews, based in North Vancouver, said in his letter the issue should not only be solved out of court, but in a more respectful manner that doesn’t involve favouring one neighbour over the next.
“For whatever reason,” he wrote, “the district has gotten itself into a situation of using the powers of local government on behalf of one neighbour against the other. With respect, I don’t think that is appropriate.”
Mayor Colin Haime has emphasized growing food and selling it at farmers’ markets isn’t as much the issue as the process it takes to grow it, which requires large amounts of manure on the property.
He says it’s not a personal attack on Compassion Farm and that the district is working on a new bylaw that will embrace regulated urban agriculture for all residents of Lantzville.
He maintains, however, that Compassion Farm remains in non-compliance and the district will pursue compliance as it would with any other case.
“It’s not unexpected that an individual who is participating in an activity would challenge whether or not the activity is legal,” said Haime. “We believe that our bylaws have been violated and we believe our bylaws need to be enforced. We’ve attempted to propose a way where we weren’t required to go to court in order to address the concerns that we have with regards to manure. So from that standpoint, at the moment our council’s position is that we intend to proceed.”
In his letter, Andrews asys that despite the differing views between the neighbours in esthetics, both uses of the respective acreages are legitimate uses of residential property.
“My clients have a very presentable house and a beautifully landscaped garden … On the complaining neighbour’s property there is a mansion-style house at the end of a long, wide driveway flanked by graded flat lawns. Clearly, my clients and this neighbour have applied different esthetics in the development of their respective residential properties.”
Becker said he is tired of operating day-to-day “with a sword above our heads, you know, ‘be careful or we’re going to court, but if you do this, this and this we might not go to court.’ It’s no fun, we’re at the 11-month mark and I am, frankly, worn out.”