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Urban farming advocates say temporary permits inadequate

Lantzville council isn't working fast enough to implement a bylaw that would allow district-wide farming on residential lots, says a new group created to encourage urban agriculture.
Andrew Mostad

Lantzville council isn't working fast enough to implement a bylaw that would allow district-wide farming on residential lots, says a new group created to encourage urban agriculture.

Andrew Mostad, spokesman for Friends of Urban Agriculture Lantzville, said a movement is underway to pressure Lantzville's government to allow urban farming rather than follow the district's solution, which is to issue temporary use permits for residents not in compliance with current zoning laws.

"It's been four months since the catalyst that started this discussion and this is the first thing that we've seen out of council regarding urban agriculture," said Mostad, referring to an open forum on temporary permits Monday, which an estimated 275 people attended. "They're simply moving too slow. By now we should have seen a more permanent fix or at least some indication that they are looking at a more permanent fix to this problem."

The catalyst to the issue began in October when Dirk Becker and Nicole Shaw, proprietors of Compassion Farm in Lantzville, were given a 180-day cease-and-desist order to stop farming after neighbours complained of manure piles and dirt blocking a public right-of-way.

"There was overwhelming support for urban agriculture within Lantzville," said Mostad. "Most everyone who spoke spoke for urban agriculture and most of them spoke against TUPs as a solution for urban agriculture."

Lantzville Mayor Colin Haime, however, said Monday's meeting wasn't about urban farming, it was about permits which would allow any resident not in compliance with bylaws to apply for temporary use, including people who grow food on their property and sell the surplus.

"Once TUPs are approved, anybody not currently in compliance will have a mechanism to apply for that TUP," said Haime. "Urban farming will then be considered after that. TUPs are a temporary solution."

The proposal will go before Lantzville council as soon as Monday (March 28) for approval.

But the Friends of Urban Agriculture Lantzville fears temporary use permits, which cost about $1,500 and can only be renewed once for a total of six years, will be council's final response to the problem.

"I think council has been very resistant to [urban farming] and I'm not sure why they've been resistant," said Mostad. "It could stem from the fact they've had complaints about this farm. It seems to me that the greatest good for the greatest number of people would be to speed up this process."

Haime said a bylaw could be rushed through in a couple of months, but due to the complexities of the situation, it's not that simple and a knee-jerk reaction to public demand would not do the issue justice. The district has to consider how chemicals used to grow food and manure piles might affect the area's water supply, among other concerns, he said.

"This area is serviced by wells. Provincial guidelines talk about the timing of the dumping of manure, distance between compost sites and wells. The ability for an individual to do that within smaller residential property and meet even provincial guidelines is difficult," said Haime. "The district is purveyor of community water, and these practices may threaten that water supply. If there was some form of contamination as a result, they would be looking to us to solve it. We need to consider that at the beginning rather than after it occurs."

Pro-urban farming groups have pointed to municipalities like Nanaimo, Parksville, Victoria and Oak Bay that allow urban agriculture within their zoning laws. Details of those bylaws, however, suggest Compassion Farms or similar operations would not be allowed in any of those jurisdictions because of regulations like percentage of land farmed, farm odours disturbing neighbours, and the number of people working on the farm.

"Compassion would be offside in any of those places and each of those bylaws would put it out of business," said Haime. "We need to come up with something that is more applicable to Lantzville and that takes time. This is a very complex issue."