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Squamish CAN farm to go ahead despite permit question

Questions surround council's right to authorize temporary use permit

A one-acre urban farm in downtown Squamish will continue to progress, despite questions around council's right to authorize the temporary use permit issued to legitimize its existence.

By law, temporary use permits are only allowed to be issued for commercial or industrial uses, something John Ducharme, who lives in the SQ building beside the property, said he was made aware of by community watchdog Terrill Patterson. They are questioning whether the agricultural nature of the urban farm falls outside these two categories.

"If you disagree with something and you are overruled then that's fine but when I found out they don't even have the authority to issue this permit, that changes the whole thing because what does bylaw enforcement do?" said Ducharme. "They're going to have to turn their head and say 'well, city council has issued this permit so I'm going to leave people alone.'"

The three-year temporary use permit was unanimously granted by council to the Squamish Climate Action Network (Squamish CAN) to transform an empty lot on Cleveland Avenue into a number of raised garden beds and greenhouses. The project will employ a few workers and will sell food to restaurants and farmers' markets, so council sees it as a commercial enterprise. Any remaining money will be channelled back into the Squamish Climate Action Network (CAN) for their activities in the community. The non-profit organization also plans to use the organic farm to teach locals about food and nutrition, as well as spread awareness of issues around food security.

"We treated it as a commercial use the same as we treat our nurseries - so our nurseries and garden centres - for example, can grow and sell and move product are all in commercial zones, so that's the logic the CAN group used to justify the commercial use," said Cameron Chalmers, general manager of community services for the District of Squamish. "It's being a farm, or agriculture use for those purposes but from our land use perspective we treated it as a garden centre or a nursery."

Chalmers pointed out three other greenhouses and nurseries that exist in Squamish, adding that council's decision to issue the permit was defensible based on how they've treated other plant growing operations in the community.

Ducharme, who moved to Squamish with his wife last December to be closer to their kids and grandchildren, said he was opposed to the project from the moment he first received a letter describing the plan.

"I was born and raised on a farm, I have nothing against it but a farm has a place. There are farms outside of communities. A farm does not belong in a city, that's just my opinion," he said. "I moved to a city because I wanted to live in the city, if I wanted to live on a farm, I'd move to a farm."

Ducharme wants to ensure that the permit was issued in good standing, and was not a bending of the rules.

He is still concerned about the worth of his property.

"Oh sure, of course it's going to decrease o ur property value," he said. "We moved here from Ontario in December ... if we would have known that we were going to be next door to a farm for six years, no we never would have bought here."