Committee to revisit farm tourism regulations

A Central Saanich committee is taking another look at farm tourism regulations after council recently voted against a proposed bylaw on the issue.

The municipality had received letters in opposition to some aspects of the bylaw, including the permitting process, noise restrictions, excessive fees, an onerous application process and the number of events allowed per year. There were also concerns and questions regarding restrictions to educational and cultural opportunities from local farmers.

“On the issue of school tours – three events a year is not anywhere near enough,” local farmer and president of the Direct Farm Marketing Association, Dan Ponchet, told the planning and development committee.

Another local farmer, Thelma Brooks, told the committee she was “startled” that agritourism bylaws from Saanich and North Saanich were not used for comparison.

“When we started the process (four years ago), we were on the leading edge, perhaps the bleeding edge,” answered Coun. Chris Graham. “One of the reasons why we didn’t look at Saanich and North Saanich’s bylaws is because they don’t have them.”

Central Saanich is one of the first B.C. municipalities to deal with new legislation for agritourism through the creation of a new bylaw.

Central Saanich council and staff say there was a “disconnect” between the agritourism task force and farm operators at some point in the process.

“I realize that there are some issues that we and farmers missed … it seems fair that we look at it again. We have to be good neighbours,” said Mayor Jack Mar.

“Agritourism is a permitted use,” said Coun. Alastair Bryson, who is also a farmer. “However it is still an option – and perhaps a responsibility – for the municipality to regulate. We are taking up the challenge because we see an opportunity for farmers and us to co-operate along with other uses in the municipality.”

He said agritourism not only provides opportunities for farmers, but potentially opens up points of conflict for neighbours of those farms. Bryson also stressed he wants to ensure agritourism ventures are an accessory to farming, not instead of farming.

The committee passed a motion to strike an advisory committee to discuss a new agritourism bylaw.

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