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Saanich woman given 30 days to shut down flower stand

A Saanich woman’s flower shop is back in business with the help of her son’s repurposed lemonade stand, but she says an outdated bylaw threatens to take down what has become a community hub.
Colleen O'Farrell has been given 30 days to shut down a flower stand in her yard by Saanich bylaw officers. April 27, 2020

A Saanich woman’s flower shop is back in business with the help of her son’s repurposed lemonade stand, but she says an outdated bylaw threatens to take down what has become a community hub.

Colleen O’Farrell has owned Foxgloves Flowers in the Gorge area for nearly 20 years, and she’s operated out of her home for the last decade. When COVID-19 hit, she thought that was the end of her business, because “suddenly all events evaporated,” she said. “No one’s gathering.”

O’Farrell received a flower shipment for an event that was cancelled and hated the thought of the flowers ending up in the compost bin.

She decided to arrange bouquets and offer to sell them by donation. She dusted off her son’s lemonade stand to display the bouquets and posted on Facebook that flowers were available to pick up.

The arrangements flew off the stand and were gone in a day, O’Farrell said, so she kept the stand going. From it, a sense of community blossomed.

“It really has created a wonderful little community hub here,” she said. O’Farrell said the stand has led to some of the best conversations she’s had with neighbours in years, and she has gotten to know people in her community that she has never met in the 14 years she’s lived in the area.

Her business was thriving, until Saanich bylaw officers showed up last week. There had been a complaint about O’Farrell’s stand and they said her retail activity on private property violated a Saanich bylaw.

“There’s always one thorn in every neighbourhood, I guess. Someone who doesn’t understand I’m just trying to feed my family. And if that means a flower farm stand, that’s what that means,” O’Farrell said.

She was given 30 days to shut down the stand.

O’Farrell remembered hearing about Katherine Little, who fought the same Saanich bylaw last year to keep her jam stand open. She got in touch with Little through Instagram and found out they knew each other. O’Farrell had provided the flowers for Little’s wedding several years ago.

The two have joined forces to petition Saanich to change the bylaw.

“I don’t want to break the rules. I want to change them,” O’Farrell said.

Little is happy that she can support O’Farrell through the same bureaucracy that closed her stand nearly a year ago, and relieved to have someone join her fight.

“When we went through it the first time we were very much alone,” Little said. “I’m thrilled to be able to give some support to Colleen, because I know exactly what she’s going through.”

Little’s stand still sits on her front lawn on Queensbury near Cedar Hill Golf Course, but the shelves are empty. That doesn’t mean she’s stopped selling her popular confections, though. Neighbours still knock on her door to request their favourite jams.

But she wants to stock the stand’s shelves once again and thinks that with COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to change Saanich’s bylaw.

“We need to remind ourselves that we’re still a community. We’re still a neighbourhood. Local will keep this world going. Everybody’s saying that now,” she said.

Little is hopeful that renewed attention to the issue might finally bring about change for her, O’Farrell and the many other Saanich farm stands that are still running but know they can be shut down with a complaint.

She feels as if Saanich council failed her last year.

“They have a chance now to look like heroes, where last year they just didn’t,” she said.

Saanich Coun. Nathalie Chambers is working on a motion that she said will be a “boot in the door” to help O’Farrell and Little keep their stands.

Chambers said changing the bylaw is complicated during the pandemic, because the municipality can’t hold a public hearing right now, but she hopes temporary change is possible.

“This is a perfect time to do this, because the COVID emergency acts as a pilot project, because there’s less cars on the road right now,” Chambers said.

Mayor Fred Haynes said Saanich staff are examining how changes could be made to the bylaw without unintended repercussions, such as having a stand on every property and the increased traffic that could attract.

Increasing traffic on residential roads was one of the concerns raised when Little’s stand was shut down.

Work on the changes has been delayed due to the pandemic, but council planned to ask for an update from staff at Monday night’s council meeting.

Haynes said it’s too early to say whether the conversation will be different this time around, but the debate is now taking place against the backdrop of economic and social challenges due to COVID-19.

“We do see the hardship of COVID,” he said.

If the bylaw is altered even temporarily, Little said her stand will be stocked immediately.

“It will be amazing to be able to do that again,” she said.