KELOWNA - Members of the agricultural community say the City of Kelowna did not communicate with them enough when constructing a new temporary farm worker housing plan.
Glen Lucas, the general manager of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, said it’s hard to tell whether the current plan being brought forward to public hearing on May 2, is the right one or not.
“Do I agree with the plan as it is, no, however that doesn’t mean that answer can’t change,” Lucas said. “Given more dialogue the answer could be yes, but we need a better understanding of what the city is wanting exactly.”
Kelowna city council forwarded the new temporary farm worker housing plan to public hearing at Monday afternoon’s, April 10, council meeting. The plan focuses on making the bureaucratic process simpler for farmers who want to house under 40 workers on their property. They would have one meeting before council and no public hearing. Farms with over 40 workers will have to go through council and a public hearing process.
According to Lucas, the City of Kelowna sent out a consultation during Spring Break and gave B.C. Fruit Growers two weeks to respond.
“I just don’t understand the rush,” Lucas said. “We certainly feel a need for a farm worker housing bylaw, there’s no question of need, but we would like to have more consultation so we can understand it better.”
Although the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association was unable to respond to the City in the allotted timeframe, they responded to the Regional District of Central Okanagan’s request for consultation, as their timeframe was three weeks and not over Spring Break. This response was then forwarded to the City, however the City did not include that response at the April 10 meeting.
Lucas would like to see a different way of determining when an application for temporary farm worker housing should go to public hearing.
“There are examples of large farms where perhaps 80 workers would be less noticeable than 10 workers on a small farm,” he said. “Say the large farm is on the outskirts of Kelowna and the smaller one is in a more populated area, people are going to notice those 10 people more than those 80 in some circumstances.”
Todd Cashin, the City's suburban and rural planning manager, says over 90 per cent of Okanagan farms use less than 40 workers.
“We’re trying to keep the process simple for the majority of farms,” Cashin said. “We've heard loud and clear from council and the community that they want public process if there’s going to be a large amount of workers living in a part of Kelowna.”
According to Cashin, the City has spent ample time trying to consult with the agricultural community.
“Back in October, 2016 we did a workshop with our agricultural advisory committee and sent the proposed policy changes out,” Cashin said. “I’ve had a number of e-mail exchanges with B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association since.”
Additionally, revised policy changes were sent out again for comment on February 10, 2017, however, the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association was not included in this e-mail. It was not until March 15, that the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association was sent the final revised policy for comment before the April 10 council meeting.
“We understand they're frustrated, but we want the public to be able to be consulted and able to voice their concerns,” Cashin said.
If the new plan is not accepted at public hearing the City will have to look at different options and will have to consult with all partners once more.
For Lucas, and the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, they just want more open discussion on the topic.
“Overall, we would like to see a return to a respectful, trust-based relationship with the City, one that is based on open communication.”
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