Urban agriculture issue heats up in Lantzville

The owner of a residential property in the middle of land use war with Lantzville city council was served legal notice late last week to show compliance or face court proceedings.

The owner of a residential property in the middle of land-use war with Lantzville council was served legal notice late last week to show compliance or face court proceedings.

Dirk Becker, owner of Compassion Farms, was cited in contravention of zoning bylaws in October. He was issued a 180-day cease-and-desist order to stop growing produce on his one-hectare property and selling it at farmers’ markets, an activity not allowed under the zoning laws for residential property.

Last week that order expired, but Becker says he has no intention of applying for a temporary use permit  created earlier this year as a response not only to Becker’s situation, but to all Lantzville property owners while council develops a suitable bylaw to address urban agriculture.

“We’re not rushing to respond to what we perceive as a threat,” said Becker. “They threaten and they hope it’s enough. It’s called voluntary compliance. The mass majority of people who get their tax notice just pay it. The vast majority of people who get traffic fines just pay it. Our responsibility is to function in a way of what people in the mid-Island want.”

Lantzville Mayor Colin Haime  said council had no choice but to pursue legal action after Becker informed council he would not apply for a temporary use permit, which would cost $1,150 and be valid for three years with the possibility of one three-year extension if approved. He added that a bylaw, currently at second reading, is being drafted to provide residents with an opportunity to participate in urban gardening.

“The TUP was designed to let the community have a discussion around the idea of farming or urban agriculture without having properties not in compliance,” said Haime. “What the bylaw will do is allow people to practice urban gardening and to sell those items, while reducing conflicts with other existing residential uses.”

Becker was originally found to be in non-compliance with zoning laws after a neighbour complained of manure and dirt piles blocking a public right-of-way.

Becker told the News Bulletin he feels the spirit of the bylaw was not intended for a garden and that the “strong sentiment of urban agriculture supporters and legal advice was to not apply for a TUP. Certainly not for agriculture.”

He added that council’s current draft bylaw, at second reading, allowing for urban agriculture on 30 per cent or 600 square meters of a residential property is inadequate. Becker currently uses roughly 40 per cent of his land to grow food.

“Does that mean a jet skier should only be allowed to use 30 per cent of a lake, or we should only be allowed to grow grass on a certain percentage of our property?” said Becker. “How is it in Lantzville that we need to ask for permission to grow food and that it can only be done on a certain portion of our land? This is about the rights of what you do on your property.”

Haime said the first draft of the bylaw allowed for 20 per cent, but it was upped to 30 per cent or 600 square metres to accommodate larger properties in the district.

“The initial reading itself was taking ideas gleaned from what other communities have done. When it came up for second reading, we made some adjustments that included the number of people who could work on the property, the size of area to be cultivated, and changes around use of composted materials to make it work better for Lantzville,” he said. “The bylaw will continue to evolve.”

Council will also establish an advisory committee consisting of two councillors and five at-large members to gauge public desires on how to evolve urban agriculture within the district.

Haime added that a legal notice to property owners not willing to show progress toward compliance after being asked is a natural step in the process and would occur for any property owner not in compliance with zoning bylaws.