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Pig house at Sandown dismantled after failing to comply with bylaws

The Fickle Fig’s pigs were in hog heaven in their roomy new hoop house — protected from bad weather and able to nestle next with each other.
Fickle Fig’s Mitchell Morse, left, and Josh Legroulx with smaller pallet-made shelters that house their pigs after a hoop house was ordered dismantled. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The Fickle Fig’s pigs were in hog heaven in their roomy new hoop house — protected from bad weather and able to nestle next with each other.

But the house is now gone, taken down from its site on the Sandown agricultural grounds because it did not meet North Saanich’s building regulations.

Mitchell Morse, owner of the Fickle Fig Farm Market, knew the house did not conform but had hoped that “somehow there would be a change of heart.”

That didn’t happen.

A building permit application had to be submitted by April 7 or a stop-work order and fines could be issued. North Saanich requires a permit for a structure larger than 10 square metres and it must meet B.C. building code standards.

No application went in. The hoop house was dismantled by the deadline and is now back in its box, Morse said.

Commonly used by local farmers, a hoop house is a lighter-weight structure than a traditional building. Morse’s has a steel frame and heavy fabric cover. It was made in Duncan and cost close to $3,000.

The Fickle Fig Farm Market, which runs a restaurant and farm on its Mills Road property, is a sub-tenant of the Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture. Since October, the centre has been leasing the former horse racing lands from North Saanich.

Morse has instead built a few smaller sized open-ended pens for his pigs, a mix of Large Black, Old Spot and Berkshire breeds.

When the matter came to North Saanich council this week, staff confirmed that a report with options to amend the city’s bylaw for temporary buildings would be completed by year’s end.

Mayor Geoff Orr noted that because Sandown is public land, it comes under a different level of scrutiny than other agricultural operations in the district. Other issues may arise relating to local bylaws and how North Saanich supports agriculture, he said.

Brian Green, North Saanich’s director of planning, said in a March letter staff had been communicating with Sandown Centre representatives on this issue. It was disappointing that instead of working with staff, there was “reluctance and questioning of the need to comply with the provincial building code and the district’s building bylaw…”

Jen Rashleigh, speaking for the Sandown Centre on Friday, anticipates working with North Saanich overcome these kind of “hiccups” in the future.

The district is concerned about health and safety, she said. “I think that is completely fair and right.”

Rashleigh said a hoop house is an “essential farming tool kit” and often larger than 10 square metres.

A second hoop house has been set up on Sandown for hot peppers, but it is a temporary building and will be taken apart later this year, she said.

Central Saanich and the Cowichan Valley do not require hoop houses to comply with the building code, she said, adding it would be cost-prohibitive to build one that meets the code.

The centre has seven sub-tenants so far, Rashleigh said.

Meanwhile, Fickle Fig pigs remain at Sandown. The company operates its own farm and has outdoor seating at its bistro. Like other restaurants, it has faced difficult financial times as COVID-19 kept customers at home.

Even though the province has imposed a temporary ban on indoor dining, there’s plenty of outdoor seating for customers and business has improved amid warmer temperatures, Morse said.

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