After much discussion between District of Kent (DOK) council members and Mayor John Van Laerhoven last Monday, the latest recommendation in a long-running ALR land use issue was voted down and sent back to staff.
Four years after Ben Meinen, owner of Meinen Brothers Agri Services submitted an ALC application for non-farm use in the ALR, his business is still part of a delicate debate about land use and regulation in the DOK.
The proposed development variance permit application in question included increases to the maximum unenclosed storage area, number of permitted vehicles exceeding 3,900 kg curb weight, number of business vehicles and parking spaces, area of the farm home plate and number of permitted business signs on Meinen Bros. leased portion of the ALR land.
The business has been operating—without the required approvals to do so on agricultural land—since at least early 2012, and is a farm equipment sale maintenance, repair and manufacturing home occupation establishment.
Council and the public noted that many staff hours had already been spent on the issue of bringing businesses into compliance.
“We took all that time to create this bylaw and now we’re just going to take the teeth back out of it and just throw it aside,” said Coun. Darcy Striker, admitting he had a tough time with this recommendation. “What happens when the next person comes… Would we do the same thing? We would have to. So I just wonder where this stops?”
Coun. Duane Post pointed out that though there are tax advantages to running a business on ALR land (as opposed to industrial zoned land) that some of that money would be recovered in the $30,000 amenity and $1,500 business licensing fees to be paid as one of the conditions.
“I know it’s not all made up there, but some of it is,” he said. “I just think we’ve been working hard to bring this business as well as many others in the district into compliance, and this would complete it.”
Coun. Sylvia Pranger echoed Post’s sentiments, adding that in passing the proposal there would be no changes to the size of the footprint of the business.
She also noted that there is scant industrial land in the district for the company to alternatively operate on.
Though the compliance program has been successful bringing businesses into compliance with the property owners in all the previous cases, according to Coun. Susan Spaeti, those have been instances where the property owners themselves have built up the business in question.
“In this case, the property owners found somebody to rent the building,” she said. “My concern is that if we say that’s OK, then there will be more properties doing that and more businesses doing that.”
Van Laerhoven said that council has “bent over backwards” to try to assist people to bring in compromises that would enable compliance.
“I wonder now in retrospect should council have gone that route?” he asked. “Should council have simply said no to non-conformity? And potentially have the taxpayer consider the costs perhaps in litigation?”
The mayor added that he would have liked to have seen a move toward middle ground from the business owner to reduce the size the variances.
That might still be possible since the motion failed—Post and Pranger voting in favour, Spaeti and Striker against (with Van Laerhoven expressing a vote against as well).
Pranger said that staff had already done their best to “bring forward the best possible scenario in a situation which is difficult.”
Striker indicated that this decision sets the precedent for future cases.
“What developer in their right mind would develop industrial land if you could go to a farm and do this compliance program with these bigger variances and pay a lot less in property taxes than you would on developed industrial land?” he asked. “Why would we need industrial land?”
He was the sole ‘nay’ vote in the new motion that passed to change the variances for reconsideration.
During the public question period at the end of last Monday’s council meeting, Allan Bott asked if the intent of the amenity contribution program was designed to clean up the past, or to provide opportunities to others for the future.
“Just use it for cleaning up the past and don’t let it happen again,” Bott said.
But this particular business was never intended to be a part of the compliance program Van Laerhoven said earlier in the discussion.
“This business came along after that time,” he said.