The fate of an Agassiz-based business is now in the hands of the Agricultural Land Commission, following a lengthy debate in Kent council on Monday night.
Council has voted 4-1 in favour of sending a recommendation to the ALC that Meinen Brothers Agri Services be allowed to continue operating within the ALR, for no more than two years. Coun. Lorne Fisher voted against the recommendation, which was put forwarded hesitantly by Mayor John Van Laerhoven.
This is just the latest development in a long-running attempt to bring Meinen Brothers Agri Services into compliance, Van Laerhoven said. It is a commercial use business, and as such is not supposed to be operating within the ALR — land that is devoted to farming practices. Staff reports show they have been working with owner Ben Meinen since 2010. His business is currently housed within a previously-decommissioned barn on a farm owned by Michael Boer, on Lougheed Hwy. The barn was renovated back in 2010, and the building inspector stated that only ALC permitted uses would be allowed to operate there.
In March 2012, staff was informed that the commercial business Meinen Brothers Agri Services was operating in the barn, and shortly after that, Ben Meinen submitted an ALC application for non-farm use. In May, 2012, council voted to not allow the business to operate there, and informed Meinen of their decision. He was given a deadline of Nov. 30, 2012 to move his business..
Meinen didn’t move, but in the meantime the District completed a long-term project to revamp what was thought to be an overly-constricting home occupation bylaw. Meinen’s is one of several businesses operating on farmland that the District of Kent is attempting to bring into compliance. The new bylaw now allows businesses such as Meinen’s to operate within the agricultural zone, theoretically.
But there are still compliance issues to iron out, as Meinen’s business is twice the allowable size of a home business, and employs more people and uses more business vehicles than permitted. Council also stated they are not in support of a commercial business taking advantage of farmland tax rates and DCC exemptions.
If Meinen were to move onto light industrial land, such as the old Kent Hotel site, his taxes would jump considerably.
While the Kent Agricultural Advisory Council officially supported Meinen’s attempt to operate as is because the business supports agriculture, staff recommended not supporting Meinen’s current non-farm use application, citing numerous concerns. The main concern, said Darcey Kohuch, director of development services, is that the business does not comply with the home occupation bylaw.
Van Laerhoven made the motion to allow Meinen to operate for two years “with reservation.”
“I’m struggling somewhat uncomfortably to suggest a compromise,” he said. “I’m trying to find a solution that’s fair and ethical.”
While Meinen didn’t speak in the meeting, others spoke up during question period and said the business couldn’t survive if it had to move to a light industrial area.
“Bottom line, he’s a benefit to Agassiz,” said Andy Bodner.
Coun. Fisher said the staff had worked hard to accommodate Meinen and other businesses in the past, but that it was council’s job to make the hard decisions.
“It’s quite clear that this violates our own rules and regulations,” Fisher said. “The business as it stands breaks our own bylaws. I’m not supporting this motion in any way.”
Coun. Striker also questioned why they would allow one business to operate on farmland, when others can’t.
“When you have someone with 5,000 sq. ft and they don’t have to pay anything… it’s not right,” he added.
Striker and Fisher both voted in favour of staff’s original report to turn down the application. The rest of council voted against it. Following that vote, Van Laerhoven put the motion forward to put the decision into the hands of the ALC, with the two year time limit.
Coun. Holger Schwichtenberg said he felt it is simply a zoning issue.
“The barn is there but it’s not the business we want in that particular area,” he said. While he supported the second vote to send it along to the ALC, he said he would like to see the time period shorter.
Meinen told the Observer after the meeting that he is “very pleased with council’s decision to forward my application to the land commission. We will see where it goes from here.”