Local Harvest application gets nod from Chilliwack council

Sending the application for non-farm use along with council support should make a big difference, said Local Harvest owner

Dan Oostenbrink

Dan Oostenbrink

Local Harvest Market is a step closer to being reborn with a bold new vision in a brand-new building.

Council voted Tuesday to send the Local Harvest permit application for non-farm use to the Agricultural Land Commission “with support.”

The plan is to construct a new building at the site on Lickman Road to house a farm market to sell both on- and off-farm product. There could be bistro seating, a food prep area, ag learning centre, community kitchen, wedding venue, offices, storage, coolers and more.

Council debated if it should be sent to the ALC “without support” or “without comment” instead.

Sending the application for non-farm use along with council support should make a big difference, said Local Harvest owner Dan Oostenbrink.

“We’re delighted it went through with support,” he said. Otherwise it might indicate council’s skepticism or a lack of full support for the ambitious plan.

During the meeting, council kicked around everything from the proposed size of the new building, to the prospect of weddings on farmland.

The weddings on farmland topic was a touchy subject. So much so that council included a condition in the motion of support, “that the proposed wedding/banquet event and assembly use occur in compliance with provincial regulations once the Ministry of Agriculture finalizes the Minister’s Bylaw Standards on Agri-tourism and Farm Retail Sale’s within the Agricultural Land Reserve.”

Coun. Sue Attrill stated she felt “uncomfortable” sending it through “with support” because the growth was so far beyond what they were initially, and would have preferred to send it without comment.

Mayor Sharon Gaetz said she was caught in between.

One the one hand she called it a “fabulous proposal,” noting she liked how it pulled in all aspects of farming.

But she was also concerned it was such a “significant departure” from their initial vision, with the weddings idea.

Coun. Chuck Stam said those concerns were covered in the condition they put in the motion.

“It’s not a full green light and it’s forwarded to the ALC for a complete review.”

He said the weddings on farmland is “a discussion that needs to continue” and the ALC will be “floating the balloon and having that discussion.”

Coun. Chris Kloot said he viewed Oostenbrink as having a “dream that he wants to move forward” and said he could understand the desire to make the “best business possible.”

Coun. Jason Lum said talking about the size was getting a little off track.

“If this was any other city, we would be send out economic development people to find a business like this,” he said with a hint of exasperation.

The emphasis of healthy local food and food security education are welcome.

“This is exactly the type of application we should be sending through with support,” said Lum.

Otherwise council risks “discouraging” the applicant, and indicating it is not interested in healthy, local food.

Now it’s in the ALC’s hands for their consideration.

After the meeting, Oostenbrink said that their intent is clear in terms of a desire to foster a food secure community within the city. They were never trying to circumnavigate any city regulations or bylaws.

He felt some council members were “getting hung up” with the idea of weddings on farmland.

“The truth is our proposal is much bigger than that. And if in the end, the ALC, which is regulatory body, determines that weddings are not permitted, I’m okay with that.”

It’s important Local Harvest is viewed as having a clean slate going forward.

“This new application should have been viewed separately from any other, and it has little to do with what’s happened in the past,” he said. “We’ve cleaned up all of the mess in terms of gaining compliance, so it’s a whole new ball game.”