A $200 ticket for holding a farm market in a barn that Central Saanich says does not meet building codes is the final straw for Richard Leblanc of Woodwynn Farms, who is accusing the municipality of harassment.
“We have not paid the ticket, and we are going to fight it in court to draw attention to the issue,” said Leblanc, executive director of the Creating Homefulness Society, which has been battling for four years to turn the high-profile property on West Saanich Road into a therapeutic farm housing more than 90 homeless people.
Leblanc said the market, which is held five days a week, would continue. The barn has been renovated by volunteers, who have turned it “from a dirty, old, derelict barn into something that looks stunning,” he said.
In March, Central Saanich put a “No Occupancy” order on the door. But the notice specifies “except for farm use,” and Leblanc says a market falls into that category.
Two weeks ago, the municipality issued a ticket.
The society has not been told what concerns Central Saanich has about the building, which Leblanc said is in better condition than many other market locations.
“There has just been one stall tactic and road block after another, and this is the latest,” Leblanc said. “The market needs work, but it’s no different from many others in Central Saanich.”
Acting mayor Cathie Ounsted said the notice was issued because the barn was not safe.
“Right now, it’s just a matter of the safety of people,” she said. “You can’t bring the public into this building with significant building code violations.”
Ounsted said the group has been warned that a $200 ticket could be issued daily if it does not comply.
“We have chosen not to do that. We have given them one or two weeks to clear everything out and [the bylaw enforcement officer] hasn’t been back, so we are giving them some latitude here,” she said.
There are also questions about Woodwynn selling products that have not been grown on the farm, Ounsted said.
“That’s another whole kettle of fish, and we have not touched that one yet,” she said.
Leblanc said jams and oils are brought in, similar to what other markets in the area do.
It will make no difference if the municipality issues a ticket a day, he said. “If that happens, we will fight one a day. The order from my board of directors is business as usual,” he said.
The group’s goal continues to be establishing a therapeutic farm, and meetings are being held with municipal staff to figure out how to make that fit with the rules, Leblanc said.
Housing for 90 people would require one hectare of the 78-hectare farm to be rezoned. A rezoning application was rejected last year by the Agricultural Land Commission after it was opposed by Central Saanich council.
There is no point in going through the process again unless there is agreement from council on how the plan could work, but the municipality is not responding to letters, Leblanc said.
In the meantime, a camp has been set up on the property, with most of the homeless people and volunteers living in donated trailers.
An average of six homeless people are there most nights, Leblanc said.