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Lantzville Takes Legal Action

Nicole Shaw

Author: Nicole Shaw

Article:

Urban Agriculture Not Welcomed in Lantzville

On Friday, June 10th, a process server arrived at our door with a letter. It stated that our Lantzville Council was proceeding with legal action—taking us to court to shut down our “urban” farm which is located in a semi-rural area, on a dead end road.

This, after at least nine months of “in camera” meetings by council, is how they are spending our tax dollars.

Last year, my spouse, Dirk Becker, and I, responded to a “cease all agricultural activity” letter by sharing information and photographs with council as to how we are transforming our property from essentially a gravel pit (created by the previous owner who strip-mined, removing soil, sand and gravel, lowering the level of the property three to five feet) to a lush oasis of life (see article: www.synergymag.ca/a-lantzville-couple’s-fight-for-the-right-to-grow-food). We have received certification from the Canadian Wildlife Federation for creating “Backyard Habitat” for wildlife. We also shared with council information about what we do, how we do it, along with links and videos on “urban farming”, the “urban farming movement” and the “local food movement”.

For the benefit of readers, this is a fast-growing movement all over the world. All “urban farming” is done in “residentially zoned” areas. Hence the term: “urban” farming. Municipalities across North America are responding to this movement by changing bylaws to support local food—to allow the growing of food as a home based business. To feed one person for a whole year, it takes about two acres of land. On Vancouver Island, we only grow 5% of the food we eat and there are only two days of fresh food supply in the grocery stores. So it behooves us to support and encourage the growing of local food.

As with most societal change, “the people” lead… and then it takes time for bureaucrats to follow and change the laws. How else would women have won the right in 1929 to be declared as “persons” (rather than as property) and have the right to vote? And how else would Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement have changed the laws that segregated “blacks” from “whites”? The people took action first.

So for those who get stuck and insist that “the law’s the law”: remember, laws are made and changed every day in Canada. Unfortunately nowadays, more often than not, it is large companies who lobby the government to change laws that benefit said companies. It is time for the people to insist on laws that are good for the people and our planet.

In the media, Mayor Colin Haime and the Lantzville Administrator, Twyla Graff, have stated that they “have no choice but to pursue litigation”. This is untrue. We and others have spoken to council members in numerous communities on Vancouver Island, as well as lawyers specializing in property law, all of whom concur, “Council members have an obligation to respond to complaints; but they are not obligated to actually enforce bylaws.”

A short tour in places like Lantzville or Nanaimo will easily reveal hundreds of bylaw infractions, many of which are worthy of complaints and prosecution. With law enforcement, such as being pulled over by a police officer, officials and organizations have a high degree of discretion available to them. Just think if a given jurisdiction came down on all “illegal” structures, basement suites, and speeders. Our courts would be full. As our world is changing rapidly, it seems that we all have a responsibility to move from talking about “sustainability” to encouraging it, supporting it and moving in that direction in every manner possible.

Only one council member, Rod Negrave has come by to see what we do here. We got nowhere in email exchanges with our Mayor. On November 17th, 2010, I closed an email cc’d to Lantzville Council and RDN directors with: “All Councillors and RDN Directors are welcome to call, email or make an appointment to visit in order to research and learn more about this issue and we will continue to share information and co-operate with the goal of creating solutions that are for the betterment of all of us.”

We naively thought at the time that this would be an open, collaborative process. The rest of council did not take us up on our offer. To this day, Councillor Negrave is still the only one who has made the effort to see for himself what we do. However, we continued to see the mayor plus several councillors visit our angry neighbour. Is it just me, or does this seem lacking in fairness and objectivity?

When Mayor Haime was asked by a resident, through his personal blog, why he hadn’t visited our place, part of his reply was “I have not visited Compassion Farm because what he is doing is not hard to understand. A personal visit is not needed.” And that he finds “it interesting that those that support Compassion Farm do not question Rod Negrave or Joe Bratkowski why they have not visited the neighbour who is plagued with living beside Compassion Farm. The smell is offensive, there is concern about run off into their well from the fresh (uncomposted) manure spread amongst the plants, the flys (sic) on their house are disturbing plus the number of local landscapers using it as a dump site to save themselves some money are streaming down the road on a regular basis.”

Does this sound like a collaborative, unbiased public servant? People driving slowly by our home on a daily basis (which is on a dead end road) to see what all the commotion is about, have stopped for a tour and expressed genuine surprise that the place is tidy and doesn’t “stink of manure”.

The mission and values of council, as listed on the District of Lantzville website, are:

“Act in a professional manner at all times, having respect for each other, the roles of council and staff, the decision making process, opinions of all of our constituents, and carry out adequate research and thoughtfully consider the issues before us, while serving and representing all of our community.”

The majority of this council has disregarded the hundreds of letters that have been written to them (one councillor implied at a council meeting that they disregarded letters they considered “unfriendly”). They have also disregarded the community members who attended two open houses/workshops to discuss urban agriculture. At the following council meeting, rather than directing staff to use the facilitator’s report to adjust the draft bylaw, Council went through the bylaw, step-by-step, giving their own opinions as to what changes to make. While Councillors Bratowski and Negrave insisted that Council’s job was to direct staff, not to micro-manage, Councillor Denise Haime stated that in order to direct staff they needed to go through the bylaw right then and there (it was the longest council meeting I’ve ever attended).

In addition, Council disregarded the over 200 people who attended at public hearing. All but two of the speakers spoke against linking Temporary Use Permits (T.U.P.) to agriculture. Shortly thereafter, we received a registered letter from the District of Lantzville inviting us to apply for a T.U.P.

We turned down the invitation for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it was against the wishes of the people and Council decided to disregard the people. Secondly, we received legal advice not to apply for a T.U.P. Other reasons include that we have no idea what the terms and conditions would be, we would have to pay $1,150.00 (our income is $20,000 per year), and a T.U.P. can be revoked at any time without notice.

Further to this, rather than talking with us, visiting our property, or sharing with us what the actual problem is, the majority of council has decided to take the heavy-handed approach to a bylaw infraction—a bylaw that is in the midst of being changed (supposedly to support growing food as a homebased business). Instead, they commence legal action with taxpayer money.

Another resident asked the Mayor on his blog: “If Bylaw 60 is ‘under review’ with a committee to be considering all the feedback re: the amendments, why would a legal letter be issued to cease activity with regards to an ‘urban garden’?”

Haime’s response was, “When the property that is not in compliance refuses to attempt to come into compliance or refuses to participate in discussions to find a compromise solution that would allow users to co-exist and mitigate/eliminate real or potential off-site effects the District needs to move forward.” (Apparently with “litigation”).

Refuses to participate in discussions? This is the first we’ve heard of it. We have met with both the Bylaw Enforcement Officer, Brian Brack, and the Lantzville Administrator, Twyla Graff. When a representative from the Regional District of Nanaimo asked us if we were open to mediation (to do with our angry neighbour), we said, “Absolutely.” Dirk and I attended council meetings, the public hearing at which we both spoke at the microphone, additionally we attended both ‘urban agriculture’ open houses/workshops and gave verbal and submitted written input at both sessions.

From day one we have offered to collaborate and naively thought that is what the process would include; however, our council has continued “discussions” in-camera (meaning, in secret).

Recently our Mayor has had a “guest comment” published in a Nanaimo newspaper where he states, “I believe we have tried to resolve this issue in a fair manner by inviting the property owner to present his ideas to council (ignored), to apply for a temporary use permit (refused), to apply for rezoning (refused), even to apply to the Agricultural Land Reserve for farm status but to no avail.” I will address each point:

  • Present ideas to council: Back in November we had sent council detailed information, links and videos about urban farming, the local food movement, Vancouver Island’s dependence on importing 95% of its food as well as noting the importance of considering “emergency preparedness”. Mayor Haime did not respond to this information; however, he reacted to an email we got hold of that we had sent to “friends and neighbours”. He didn’t show any signs of “hearing” our points, it was a one-way lecture until we gave up and told him we wanted no further contact with him as we were happy to answer his questions and he would not answer ours–demonstrating his single minded approach, his lack of interest in what we had to say, making it clear that his mind was already made up and that he had no real interest in dialogue. We also met with Twyla Graff, the Lantzville Administrator and Brian Brack, the RDN Bylaw Enforcement Officer. In that meeting Twyla asked that we and others (who were planning to speak in December) not take up more council meeting time by presenting, stressing that “Council has got the message.”
  • Apply for a temporary use permit: we listed the reasons for declining earlier in this article.
  • Rezoning: see farm status below.
  • Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR): see farm status below.
  • Farm Status: Other than the two bylaw enforcement letters (first the “unsightly premises” and then the “cease all agriculture activity”), a letter letting us know of the T.U.P. process, then the registered letter ‘inviting’ us to ‘apply’ for a T.U.P., and recently the letter/document (posted below) we received from the Victoria law firm saying Lantzville is now taking legal action against us, the District of Lantzville has NEVER communicated with us with regard to having us apply for rezoning, apply to the ALR, or attain Farm Status. The mayor’s statements are simply not true. (As an aside, we have always paid full property taxes whereas attaining Farm Status would lower our taxes considerably).

As of press time, if we have not stopped growing vegetables and selling them at the Bowen Road Farmers’ Market, we will be taken to court by our District of Lantzville.

Some have asked, “Is it worth it?” Hmm, shall we ask people of colour? Shall we ask women if they prefer being persons in their own right? Each significant change in history began with the people taking action.

Among other things, Nicole is a farmer, feminist, artist, founding member of the Bowen Road Farmers’ Market, and volunteers her time to publish this magazine. Click to read her previous articles on this subject:

1) A Lantzville’s Couple’s Fight for the Right to Grow Food and 2) Ways & Means of Bullying

If you would like to donate to the Compassion Farm Defense Fund, click here.



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This entry was posted on Monday, July 4th, 2011 at 11:26 pm and is filed under FEATURE. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

16 Responses to “Lantzville Takes Legal Action”

  1. Kelly McRae says:

    I cannot believe the government is now sticky their nose in growing FOOD!!! Over the last few months there has been a huge jump in vegetable prices and I believe most people are looking at growing vegetables on their properties. With this economic climate we are struggling to make ends meet, now the government is telling us we can’t grow our own food – sounds a little too much like “Big Brother” to me!!!

    I would like to point out that many people that buy in the Lantzville area are buying to put in hobby farms, growing vegetables having farm animals, that is why I was looking in this area to buy an acreage. I will not buy in Lantzville if this goes through, but what I am worried about is if Lantzville gets away with this, where are we going to be able to buy property and grow food? Some whinning neighbour in Cedar will have a presedence to outlaw growing food there and so on and so on!! Are you kidding me???

    This is horrible if the neighbour hates it so much MOVE!!

  2. Della says:

    all this, while on the front page of the Times Colonist July 13, there is a lovely color picture of a woman growing food in 8 backyards in Victoria, and selling it from a small roadside stand, as well as “paying” the people whose yards she is using in food.With the blessing of her governments… Lantzville council is out of step with the times. perhaps they think mcdonalds will get food to them even in the event of a ferry catastrophe or natural disaster. It behooves us to have an urban gardens in every neighbourhood. Even here in small Duncan, we have community gardens springing up everywhere… Please Council, get your head out of the sand, and hands into the soil. Your survival depends on it. Look what happened to the dinosaurs.

  3. Thank you so much for presenting your side of these events as they unfold. I, like many local people, have followed your story for a while now and am disheartened that you are even in this position to begin with.

    We would like you to know that you have our support. Our family is moving to Nova Scotia to start our farm again from scratch and are certainly inspired by you and people like you who have come before us.

    Thanks for all you do to support local growers, educate people about food security, and to make the planet a better place for all of us.

  4. April Reeves says:

    Nicole, you made a few valid points in your favor in court. 1. Why doesn’t the municipality police and prosecute those whose property uses have been in violation for a longer time than yours? The fact that they don’t, and haven’t, is a good challenge in court under harassment. 2. Why did they let the property go for gravel? Another challenge of harassment. 3. Not visiting, or personally speaking with you challenges harassment.

    I would counter sue…

  5. Jennifer Apostoli says:

    I am very upset about the Lantzville council’s short sighted reasons to stop people from growing food on their own land. It is so disheartening that in these times so called intelligent people do not understand how important this is. As well a food garden is just as pretty as a flower garden but less toxic. I really wonder what people think they are going to eat in the future and what are our children going to eat?
    Get smart, eat healthy grow a garden it’s your right!!!

    Thank you,
    Jennifer Apostoli

  6. Ron says:

    It is simply amazing that Lantzville can deny you the right to grow food on your property. By the time you expend the energy to plant, maintain and harvest vegetable crops on a small acreage you realize very little if any financial reward. We do it to control what is in our food and harvest when the plants are fully developed and at their most nutritious state. I hope you beat this draconian effort to degrade quality of life.

  7. Valerie Sawyer says:

    Thanks for the very informative article, Nicole. How frustrating. And these people get paid to spend time harassing you; while you, on the other hand, have to absorb the cost of defending yourselves against said harassment.

  8. Michelle says:

    One simple change you could make that may appease the smell issue is to switch to llama manure which in my personal opinion is as superior to other forms but it DOESN’T SMELL. There is no offense to be made. And literally within weeks, your soil will show an improvement. I have been using it for years with great success.

    I totally love what you are doing and agree with your points. I too, am working on creating a backyard oasis for wildlife, and applaud your efforts. I can also understand the neighbour’s complaint about stinky manure… maybe the compromise might be llama manure instead. It would make a move towards something more positive either way.

  9. Judy Goldschmidt says:

    This is so outlandish. Compassion Farm should not have to fight this ridiculous case on your own. How can others help? I think organizations like Suzuki Foundation, Island Farmers Alliance and others should be getting behind you with legal support and funds. Your mayor sounds unreasonable. Your council and mayor should be held accountable for their actions and behaviour. Keep growing!!

  10. Christopher McCallum says:

    Hi Nicole,

    Greetings from Australia.

    Great articulate description of your plight. The neighbours certainly appear to be close-mined philistines aided and abetted by ignorant and dogmatic council suits. I hope you can secure pro bono legal support from a lawyer who recognises urban farming as the imperative (and beautiful) way of the future for everyone. The old corporate inefficient “ship it in” paradigm is coming to an end . . . hang in there!!!

    Cheers,

    Chris

  11. Antony says:

    On every level of governance there is a wider and wider disconnect between the citizenry and those entrusted to represent the taxpayers

    Lantzville has gone mad with bureaucratese
    I hope that your fellow citizens will stand by you
    You should initiate a taxpayer association and challenge the dull and officious mayor you have in Lantzville
    and come election time show him and his miniscule brained fellow tyrants the door
    Utterly disgraceful
    I wish you good luck and continued success with your excellent initiative
    Antony-Vernon BC

  12. linda says:

    This situation is utterly pathetic. At a time when economies around the world are tanking and it becomes ever more difficult to obtain fresh food at affordable prices; at a time when energy costs are skyrocketing and resources are becoming more scarce,it becomes ever more important for local communities to look within and find ways to source more of their food supply locally; at a time when global warming, drought, and weather disasters leave us all one major disaster away from food scarcity; one would think Compassion Farm would be be receiving overwhelming support not only from local residents but also from local government.

    Lantzville bureaucrats would do well to watch what happens in Oak Park, Michigan, where the mayor will likely be booted out of office as citizens rally around a front-yard vegetable gardener who is being ridiculously harassed in a similar situation.

    Arrogant local politicians are increasingly having a more difficult time staying in their offices as more and more citizens demand common-sense leadership and refuse to accept situations such as this. It happened in my town too, where a mayor of 27 years was booted out of office by the voters in a grass-roots movement to replace him with fresh, innovative, responsive, and common-sense leadership.

    Compassion Farm and other ‘urban’ farmers are the future in every locality. Politicians can either get real, or get out. Citizens living in so-called democracies, and even those living under tyrannical rule are finally fed up, waking up, and standing up for their basic rights and the rights of their fellow citizens, even, and often, at great personal cost. I applaud you Dirk and Nicole.

  13. Luchia Feman says:

    thank you for the energy and effort you are putting into doing the right thing. I too was harassed for creating the first home delivery service in the fraser valley (grow ops fine, veg’s not so much). I think it’s about consistently getting the word out there, letting people know how blatantly and systematically our rights are being stripped from us – accessing pure, affordable food is a human right, not an excercise for the law courts.

    You are supported, please keep putting the word out!

  14. So sorry to hear your plight is still ongoing.

  15. Karl kohler says:

    I have the same problem here in Vancouver with endless harrassment for years from bylaw enforcement officers who dislike the garden, have city orders to remove the greenhouses, my woodworking shop, even the sun shade in the yard. They threaten my landlord and after many letters and emails to city councillors – nothing! This from a city that purports to support urban agriculture, and the “greening” of Vancouver…

  16. [...] (on Vancouver Island). Over the last year their busy lives on the farm have been compounded by a legal dispute over an outdated [...]

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