Farms in the city? Have your say on Victoria's urban agriculture proposals

Victoria residents will have a chance to weigh in on whether urban agriculture should mean more than giving away extra zucchinis, when the city’s Growing in the City proposal goes to public hearing next week.

Coun. Jeremy Loveday said the proposal represent a huge step forward in the promotion of food security — the ability to access affordable nutritious food — by allowing farming and farm stands throughout the city.

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“We’re putting our money where our mouth is,” Loveday said. “We are making it feasible for people to participate in growing their own food in Victoria.”

The city’s Growing in the City proposals go to public hearing on Thursday, with written feedback accepted until Monday at midnight.

The bylaw changes would allow raw, unprocessed food such as fruits, nuts, seeds, eggs and honey to be grown, harvested and sold by farmers within the city.

Growers would require a $100 annual business licence to sell goods off-site. On-site sales — through a farmstand, for example — would require either an annual licence or a three-month licence, available for $25.

Farmstand hours would be limited to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., except on Sundays, when the hours would be 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Loading of delivery trucks would be limited to once a day during the same hours.

Loveday lives in an apartment and said he would love to buy excess fruit from a neighbour’s tree — but selling such surplus is technically illegal.

He envisions produce stands within walking distance of downtown, rather than a drive away on the Saanich Peninsula. “What’s more local than buying from your neighbour?” he asked.

Vancouver has something similar, Mayor Lisa Helps said Friday, but “I think we’re one of the first municipalities in Canada, if not the first, to allow farms and farmstands in all areas of the city — residential, commercial and industrial.”

The city already encourages gardening on city-owned boulevards, but the Growing in the City report identifies dozens more public properties where agriculture could take place, she said.

“This is really enabling policy,” Helps said. “You’re not going to see parks workers start growing potatoes. What you’re going to see is the community coming forward, and we have structure in place to support community-led initiatives.”

The mayor said she expects the changes to pass — except for the part about changing the city’s Official Community Plan to make agriculture “subservient” to development. That aspect is generating plenty of rotten tomatoes from local farmers.

City staff see making housing, office and development “a higher priority” than small-scale commercial urban food production as a way to balance food security with new housing objectives. Food production on private land would be “subservient,” in the words of the proposal, to “the density, built form, place character, and land-use objectives in this plan.”

The wording has drawn objections from some agriculture supporters.

“The city already has the power, and historical precedent, to choose built development over urban agriculture — why change the Official Community Plan and why use such heavy-handed language?” asked Jenny McCartney, co-ordinator of the LifeCycles Project Society’s Fruit Tree Project, in a statement.

Julia Ford, an urban farmer with City Harvest, stated: “If the land upon which I farm is legally subservient to other kinds of development, there is no security for my business, and I cannot continue to invest in its growth.”

Helps said the city has been hearing a lot of objections to the idea that buildings will trump agriculture and she doesn’t want the S-word to stay in the OCP. “I don’t support that, and I think we’ve heard really clearly from the community that it should be done on a case-by-case basis.”

For more information on the proposed changes, go to victoria.ca/growinginthecity. Submit written feedback by email to engage@victoria.ca by Monday. Thursday’s public hearing starts at 6:30 p.m. inside City Hall.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

What is being proposed?

1. Allow small-scale food production in all areas of the city

Currently, if you want to grow enough food to sell you have to do so in an industrial zone or on the residential property where you live and package your food. The proposed bylaw change would permit small-scale commercial urban food production (growing food and selling the harvest) in all zones, provided it does not negatively impact neighbours with unreasonable levels of odour, noise or artificial lighting.

This would expand the range of potential sites for new urban food production businesses to include commercial areas, vacant lots, residential properties, rooftops, institutional properties and other underused sites.

2. No longer require a development permit for small-scale commercial urban food production

Thinking of doing some edible landscaping in your yard? The City is considering eliminating the development permit for certain types of landscaping required for commercial and non-commercial urban food production (e.g. community gardens, community orchards and edible landscaping), unless the installation is being constructed in association with a building, structure or other landscape feature that requires a development permit.

3. Require a Business Licence to sell food products

The City is considering introducing a business licence to sell unprocessed food products both off-site (retail stores, restaurants, etc.) as well as on-site (food stands, farm produce box pick-up, etc.) For off-site sales, urban food producers will need to obtain a year-long business licence for $100. Two on-site licence options will be offered, a three-month on-site business licence for $25 or a year-long licence for $100.

To limit impacts to the neighbourhood, loading the products into a delivery truck would be allowed one time per day, between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on a weekday or Saturday; and between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Sunday or a holiday.

4. Update the Official Community Plan

The City is also considering a change to the Official Community Plan to clarify that built development e.g housing, office and retail will be considered as a higher priority than small-scale commercial food production. This change would balance food security and production with the City’s objectives for new housing and development.

Source: City of Victoria

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