Rezoning approved for unique Local Harvest Market

What sets the local venture apart is that the bulk of their fresh produce is grown right in the fields on Lickman Road

Dan Oostenbrink of Local Harvest Market addresses a group visiting the unique business on the Chilliwack Agriculture tour of 2014.

Dan Oostenbrink of Local Harvest Market addresses a group visiting the unique business on the Chilliwack Agriculture tour of 2014.

A unique farm-based business on Lickman Road is still without a business licence, and the main building is not up to code — almost two years after it opened.

City of Chilliwack officials have been working with Local Harvest Market for months to bring it into full compliance with regulations.

The recent rezoning of the property approved by council was a decisive step forward.

Local Harvest Market owner Dan Oostenbrink called the rezoning “excellent” news.

“We’re delighted,” he told The Progress. “Obviously council is supportive and want to see us succeed.”

They have been trying to buy time before being required to rebuild their retail building.

“I’m not rebelling. I want to do it,” he said. “But there’s the spirit of the law, and the letter of the law, and then there’s also the human side, which is softer.”

Oostenbrink was given until October to resolve the remaining issues, and a Section 57 notice was registered on title at the last council meeting because of the outstanding aspects.

Council members also passed fourth and final reading of the rezoning bylaw that night, redesignating a section of the property from AL (Agriculture Lowland) Zone to an AC (Agriculture Commercial) Zone. The rezoning was held at third reading but that step was required before a building permit could be issued.

What sets them apart is that the bulk of the fresh produce sold in the market, about 80 to 90 per cent, is grown right in the fields at 7697 Lickman Road.

“I don’t know of any other example of anyone growing that amount of food and selling it on-site.”

The goal at Local Harvest is creating a “food secure” community with year-round access to healthy produce in season.

“A lot of people think it’s ridiculous that we have to rebuild,” Oostenbrink said, adding that the code requires the same elements to be in place as if they were to build a big box grocery store.

The existing building, which houses the retail operations including Magpie’s Bakery, Anita’s Organic Mill and the Curly Kale Bistro, as well as an indoor market, will eventually be repurposed. But the bulk of the square footage is used for vegetable and equipment storage, as well as washing and packaging produce.

The next step for Oostenbrink is submitting plans and drawings for the new structure, so that a building permit can be issued, and construction can begin.

“What is interesting is the city is forcing this upon us, but it will give us the opportunity to operate in a bigger market and a chance offer more product variety in the end,” said Oostenbrink.

It’s the timeline that rankles, and the prohibitive cost of rebuilding.

“They sped up on something that we wanted to hold off on. We wanted to tread carefully,” said the owner.

He mentioned The Candyland example, as a cautionary tale. Candyland saw a building hastily constructed on Luckakuck Way for a tourism attraction that never got off the ground. The property was eventually purchased by City of Chilliwack.

Since the last council meeting, the owners of Local Harvest Market hired an architect to design a new 5000-square foot building.

“That kind of space will give us real freedom. We could not have anticipated that were going to get the Agricultural Commercial rezoning approved.”

Coun. Sam Waddington emphasized the city is not trying to be “punitive,” and the steps they’ve taken to date should give all parties some reassurance, even the Section 57 notice registered on title.

“Since it is a good local business, we didn’t want to shut it down.

“But the rules are there for a reason,” he said. “We’re open for business, but not at all costs.”

Council voted in favour of the rezoning but they opted to offset it to some degree by registering notice on title, which indicates there are still issues outstanding, he noted.

“But the longer this building stays non-compliant, the longer it continues to both set precedent and pose a benign risk to customers, and other businesses in the community,” said Waddington.

They don’t want to create an “unfair playing field” with how they proceed.

“We’re trying not to be punitive, but at the same time for reasons of public safety and fairness, they need to come into compliance,” he said.