Lantzville council offers olive branch to urban farmer

District of Lantzville city council is willing to back off legal proceedings if a stubborn landowner found in non-compliance of zoning bylaws agrees to cooperate.

Lantzville council is willing to back off legal proceedings if a stubborn landowner found in non-compliance of zoning bylaws agrees to co-operate.

Last month, the district served Compassion Farm owner Dirk Becker with legal notice for operating agricultural activities on his one-hectare property zoned as residential and for home-based business.

The original complaint from a neighbour last October stemmed from odours from manure piles, commercial traffic and other bylaw infractions.

On Wednesday (July 20), Lantzville Mayor Colin Haime said the district would postpone legal proceedings if Becker agrees to stop transporting compostable materials including but not limited to manure, woodchips and lawn clippings to and from the property; cease all other non-compliant business activities on the site excluding the sale of fruits, vegetables and herbs grown on the land; and clear two metres around the entire property of manure, woodchips and lawn clipping, as well as other stockpiled materials; and to reduce the grade to adjacent properties.

“The issue from the start has been about the effect on the neighbours, it hasn’t been about the production of food. We want to mitigate the smell side of things and also the concern over well water. We’re addressing the issues and concerns of the neighbours,” said Haime.

Fully composted materials would be permitted, said Haime, adding that Becker selling his produce on or off his property isn’t the issue. It’s the materials and disturbances caused to neighbours in the food-growing process that is being addressed.

“You can’t give someone a blanket ‘do-whatever-you-want’ in terms of any other activity. The issue is the effect his production is having on his neighbours,” said Haime.

Becker has refused to purchase a temporary use permit from the district, established earlier this year by council to address similar zoning non-compliance. Haime said he has also opted not to formally address council to help identify what he believes are they key barriers to make his operation successful in a residential setting.

“The biggest problem I have … is to say we did not participate,” said Becker. “They say we have made no effort and that is simply untrue. We participated the first moment they had an open house … then we participated in a half-day workshop. For them to say we haven’t participated and have refused any initiatives when we haven’t done one particular thing, to appear for 10 minutes cap-in-hand before council, is reprehensible.”

In the meantime, council is in the process of amending its zoning bylaw to include urban gardening that would permit urban gardens in Lantzville to be the greater of 600 square metres or 30 per cent of the property. Becker is currently farming about 40 per cent of his property.

A committee on the subject was struck by council to look into the best solution for Compassion Farm and all Lantzville residents who want urban gardens. It is expected to report back to council on Sept. 16.

In its letter to Becker, council identified other options he could pursue, which include applying to have his land included in the Agricultural Land Reserve; apply to the district to have his property rezoned; or reconsider a temporary use permit.

“In the absence of any action or attempt to bring the property into compliance under these conditions or any other of his avenues it leaves the district in a position where we’ll have to seriously consider moving ahead with regards to the legal process,” said Haime.