Lantzville farm dispute resolved; urban agriculture issue remains

Lantzville's mayor hopes recent settlement will help address the urban agriculture issue.

Lantzville’s mayor hopes a settlement reached recently in a longstanding dispute over the operation of a commercial farm on a residential property could help address the urban agriculture issue.

The District of Lantzville announced last week the dispute between the owners of Compassion Farm and adjoining property owners, which began in the fall of 2010 after a neighbour filed a complaint with the district over manure odours, has been resolved after a nine-month mediation process.

A letter signed by Compassion Farm owners Dirk Becker and Nicole Shaw and adjoining property owners states that while the farm operation is not permitted by the residential zoning bylaw, the district does not intend to take any enforcement action against the contravention as long as Becker and Shaw comply with several conditions. Conditions include limits on the area under cultivation, on-site sales and the amount of materials that can be imported each year; a requirement that the materials be fully composted; providing access to the property for tests to ensure farming activities are not having an adverse effect on well water quality; and moving the rain barrel sale business indoors.

Mayor Jack de Jong said the heart of the issue was concerns from neighbours about importation of raw manure and water quality.

De Jong hopes the settlement, which cost the district about $25,000, can be used as a template for amending the home business bylaw.

“Using that as a foundation, I think we can work and make something that will be supported by the community,” said de Jong. “There seems to be some consensus that we should incorporate urban agriculture in the home business bylaw.”

Becker said he and Shaw signed the agreement because they needed closure.

“It’s been a two and a half year battle and Nicole and I are very, very tired of fighting,” he said, adding that the agreement does not address the issue of changing urban farming from being illegal to a supported, encouraged and protected activity.

“That’s all we’ve ever wanted,” said Becker. “It’s all about our cultural attitude towards farming in residential areas.”

The dispute began in 2010 with the complaint, after which the farm was cited as operating in contravention of Lantzville’s zoning bylaw.

Becker and Shaw were issued a 180-day cease and desist order, but continued to operate the farm, prompting council to issue a legal threat to force compliance, which was later dropped in favour of mediation.

The issue sparked a broader community discussion about urban agriculture and led to development of an urban food bylaw that was later abandoned in favour of creating a soil deposit and removal bylaw, which has not been adopted.

Becker said he is mortified at the amount of district money being spent on the individual issue and he feels that Compassion Farm has been the victim of  “selective enforcement.”

“There’s hundreds and hundreds of infractions in Lantzville right now,” he said. “They put all this energy into going after us.”

De Jong said now that the major players – Becker, Shaw and their neighbours – have reached an agreement, he feels council can move forward with creating a change to the bylaw without undue pressure from both sides.

Jamie Wallace, spokesman for Friends of Urban Agriculture Lantzville, a group that formed in response to the Compassion Farm dispute, said the group thinks amending the home business bylaw is a good place to start, but hopes council will allow the community to provide feedback along the way.

“We haven’t had an opportunity to review [the agreement] line by line, but I do think it is a place to start,” he said. “That agreement, in some regards, was a victory for people who want to have urban farming as an allowable activity.”