It was a tough decision.
Bringing Local Harvest Market into full compliance with building code and business licensing regulations has been a struggle for city officials for more than two years.
Council brought down the hammer Tuesday, voting to post a “no occupancy” order two months from now, backed by legal demand letter.
One city councillor said the dilemma they faced was like being “referees in a horrible situation.”
At issue is the non-compliant converted barn structure housing the Local Harvest Market. The market shares the space with partners, Anita’s Organic Mill, Magpie’s Bakery, and Curly Kale Eatery.
The building does not meet the rigorous seismic, fire or structural building code regulations, or city bylaws, and as it stands can’t be brought up to code. Consequently it is seen as posing a risk to public safety.
The staff recommendation was to give the business two weeks to comply, and impose heavy fines of $500 for each day the ‘no occupancy’ order is violated.
But after a lengthy discussion in chambers, council voted to soften the blow and amend it, by allowing the business 60 days, not two weeks, to come into compliance, with the $500 fine only imposed every two weeks, rather than daily.
Coun. Jason Lum was the lone vote opposing the “no occupancy” motion, calling the measures “punitive” since the business is awaiting approval by the ALC.
“There are many buildings being used for business purposes that do not meet the building codes,” he noted.
Coun. Chris Kloot said he recognized the “good work” done by the business owners, but was disappointed to be faced with dealing with the issue again.
“It’s like déja vu. We can debate this until the broccoli is ripe,” he said. “We have been very gracious. But I do wonder whether 14 days is too short of a timeframe.”
It was Coun. Chuck Stam who put forward the suggestion of an amendment, pushing the order forward to 60 days, after noting the market was a “victim of its own success.”
“I cannot support the harshness of two weeks and $500 per day in fines, but we do need to be firm and fair.”
Coun. Sam Waddington was clearly torn.
“From the outset I would say this is exactly the kind of business I want to see in this community, one that sells locally grown food. They’re doing all the right things, and I want to do everything in my power to encourage that. On the flip side, we want to make sure the playing field is fair.”
He pointed out that Local Harvest “chose to blatantly disregard the rules” that all businesses have to adhere to.
“If they wanted to benefit the community, they would’ve followed the rules, they wouldn’t have put council in this position. We have to be referees of a horrible situation right now.
“I don’t want to shut down a business, I don’t want to close the door on people who are doing good things. But we didn’t put ourselves in this position, the applicant did,” said Waddington. “I hope the community gets the message that they have to play by the rules.”
Asked for a reaction after the decision, Local Harvest owner Dan Oostenbrink said he was “definitely very happy” to have extra time to look for alternative venues to market the fresh produce they grow on their 30-acre farm property.
They’ve worked with city staff on the non-compliance issues, hired an architect and submitted plans for the building. They’ve also been fined several times for operating without a business licence. They are now awaiting approval from the Agricultural Land Commission.
They’ll have to scramble to find a suitable solution by spring.
“Of course the best outcome would have been getting enough time to build our new building, but we understand there is a process to be followed, and that council needs to do what is politically expedient.”
Investigating temporary structure options is next, in order to allow the farmers to continue selling fresh vegetables.
“The crops keep coming, and we’re entering into a warmer season so keeping the produce cool is going to be the challenge.”
They also have to decide how to proceed with their partners, the bakery, Anita’s Organic and the café.
“We’re going to try to work something out. What’s interesting is when you get a roadblock like this, you have to get creative.”
They’re planning to expand online sales efforts, possibly by adding a delivery option for their veggie boxes.