A commercial wedding operator in Chilliwack that showed “flagrant disregard” for the rules is taking steps to come into compliance.
As a result a non-farm use application was forwarded by Chilliwack council this week to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) — with support.
It passed Tuesday at city hall after some vigorous discussion by council with a vote of 4-2.
Coun. Sam Waddington and Mayor Sharon Gaetz voted against.
The focus of the “non farm use” application was to approve the barn used for wedding receptions, and another building on the farm site to be used as a second residential dwelling, on the property located at 9977 Grigg Rd.
The Rosedale address is the same one listed as a business operating as Shelby’s Pond where weddings are held.
Coun. Chris Kloot, chair of the city’s Agricultural Advisory Committee, said the ALC application for non-farm use was one of several such non-farm use applications being considered by city council.
“This was one of those applications coming forward that is basically tidying up and dealing with some non-conforming issues,” he said. “We want them to come into compliance and this is a step in that direction.”
He acknowledged there were some challenges from noise complaints to bylaw enforcement.
“I think it’s in the best interest of the applicant to make this work in his neighbourhood,” Kloot said.
Coun. Waddington said sometimes a business can outgrow its footprint, and then have to bring properties and practices into compliance with existing rules.
“This was not that,” said Waddington.
“The applicant was asked to stop (holding weddings) and was fined, more than 1o times. It’s hard to say in good faith they worked with staff (to come into compliance). It’s been a serious challenge.”
Also, the ALC changed the rules last year, deciding to allow 10 commercial weddings or other events per year, without requiring a permit, on farm properties.
“The applicant has caused our community grief, and there were numerous fines,” Gaetz said.
Bylaw enforcement staff estimated there were 10 to 12 fines of $500 each from the City of Chilliwack for operating the business without a licence.
In addition, those fines were not paid in a timely manner, and city officials had to go after them through the bylaw adjudication process.
“There hasn’t been an appetite to follow the rules,” said Mayor Gaetz.
Coun. Sue Attrill said that despite a “flagrant disregard” of the rules, and complaints from neighbours, ALC has now authorized the practice of weddings in the ALR.
“So there is no reason not to send this forward now with support,” Attrill said, after acknowledging it was a “difficult” one to support for council, that has led to “huge costs and aggravation.”
Mayor Gaetz asked hypothetically, “if any city had a problem with the noise, overparking or overdrinking” in the case of weddings on farmland, what tools would it have?
The staff response was that those powers would be fairly limited if any, since the ALC rules overrule city bylaws, so they can’t stop them from holding weddings, or withhold a business licence, except for “very good reasons.”
“I too would prefer this history had not happened,” said Coun. Chuck Stam, but since the issues were being addressed, he would support it.
Council tried to be “gracious” and was “lenient in that regard,” said Mayor Gaetz, adding later she hoped they’d show city officials how they can work in compliance with the rules.
Coun. Waddington said he understood the logic of a barn for wedding receptions, given the sometimes rainy nature of B.C.
“But we are giving them a notch up on every other business that doesn’t have a building,” Waddington said.
He also said he didn’t think the applicant had “earned” council’s trust, given the items listed in the staff report.
But the applicant said last year they are not “inhibiting” neighbours from ag activity.
“We don’t understand why people can’t choose where to have their weddings,” Rich Kramp of Shelby’s Pond said in a Black Press story in 2015 when the ALC first cracked down on the events.
“As a result of our recent closure, all the weddings we had booked were cancelled for 2016.
“We have remained in touch and almost all chose to leave B.C. for destination weddings. We aren’t inhibiting the ‘right to farm’ to any of our surrounding neighbours. There is no impact to our existing property to host these functions. No agricultural land is disturbed.”