November 19, 2015 - 8:00 PM
KELOWNA - Misuse of agricultural land could soon see a few local businesses in front of a judge, taken to court by the City of Kelowna.
The city has already issued fines to the owners of some properties in the Benvoulin corridor and is considering legal action against several more, according to Todd Cashin, rural planning manager and the man responsible for the agricultural compliance enforcement strategy.
Council approved the project last February with the aim of ferreting out owners and tenants who were misusing agricultural land, usually by running a non-compliant business on land that is in the Agricultural Land Reserve and not zoned for commercial use.
The Benvoulin corridor was identified as a hot spot for this type of violation and Cashin says within that area the city soon identified 13 properties as needing further investigation, where a business was running but little or no farming was happening.
Two were put on a watch list and 11 required follow up, Cashin says, involving discussions with property owners and businesses. Three files have since been closed.
“Some of those worked out well, some of them didn’t,” he adds, resulting in further enforcement and the looming possibilty of legal action.
Cashin would not reveal the names of the companies or owners of properties currently under investigation and referred questions about the fines levied to the city clerk’s office.
He did say the majority of offenders are either construction or landscaping companies that are often running and storing heavy equipment on-site, tamping down and, in some cases, contaminating the soil, which is often of high agricultural quality throughout the area.
“Some of these companies are importing soils that we don't where they are coming from and then there is the potential to sell off the local soil. You take the soil, put it in a pot with a plant then sell it.”
Cashin says he will be reporting to city council in December the results of the agricultural compliance enforcement strategy and considering whether to expand it into other violation hot spots within Kelowna such as parts of Glenmore, Ellison and near Sexsmith Road.
The Benvoulin corridor covers approximately 566 hectares, Cashin says, with agricultural land making up about 40 per cent or 25,000 ha of Kelowna's total land base.
However, Cashin says the intent is not to harm small businesses but rather protect a diminishing resource, something that's enshrined in the city's official community plan.
“Our first thing is education and we push hard on that. We try to be as nice as we can but some people just dig in their heels right off the bat. Then we really have to push for compliance.”
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— This story was updated at 8:06 a.m., Nov. 20, 2015, with the number of hectares in the corridor.
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