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Zeidler, Kasselman seeking subdivision in Lillooet

Want to concentrate on growing grapes, leave hay farming to someone else

Two Whistler residents are seeking a subdivision for an agricultural property they own near Lillooet.

Eckhard Zeidler, a councillor with the Resort Municipality of Whistler and co-owner of Texas Creek Ranch with photographer Brad Kasselman, appeared before the board of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District seeking a subdivision that would remove 55 acres from their 165-acre property to help them establish a vineyard.

Because the property, located at 18450 Texas Creek Road in Area B of the SLRD, lies within the Agricultural Land Reserve, the application has to be approved by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC). Such an application has to first be supported by local government.

The SLRD board unanimously supported the application.

Zeidler told the board they need to subdivide the property into two separate parcels in order to focus entirely on growing grapes for wine. The 55 acres they hope to sever from their land are more appropriate for growing alfalfa hay and neither Zeidler nor Kasselman are much interested in that.

"There's a completely different group of people in the vineyards than in hay farming," Zeidler said. "We have found that to be a challenge, because we have to remain very focused to build this industry from the ground up, as seems to be the direction from investors.

"This way we can concentrate fully on building this property and another individual can concentrate on making the 55 acres as productive as it can possibly be."

Zeidler proposes to develop a relatively small vineyard, arguing before the board that bigger is not always better when it comes to producing wine. He said quality products are farmed on smaller plots using human power, and can produce high rates of income, but are also very capital- and labour-intensive. He said his vineyard could be a four-season operation, employing approximately 10 people year-round.

Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy supported the initiative and said it was a great idea for Lillooet but he didn't agree with Zeidler's contention that smaller vineyards make better wine.

"When he says bigger vineyards are not better, I know Wolf Blass, Lindeman's, those are huge wineries that produce great wines," he said. "To say you need small acreage to do a good product, that's not the case."

Sturdy went on to ask whether the SLRD would be using a business plan as its rationale for subdivision.

Susie Gimse, director for Area C, echoed Sturdy's concerns.

"No one wants to support seeing agricultural land subdivided," she said. "I think Lillooet, with its large amount of agricultural land, let's face it, it's a depressed area, they're struggling in terms of the economy, they've been depopulated in terms of people moving into the area. I think we as a board need to look at ways to support the agricultural industry."

Mickey Macri, Area B representative on the SLRD board, expressed clear enthusiasm for the project.

"This land is not leaving the ALR," he said. "We need employment within Area B. It's land that would be farmed and used instead of sitting idle. Most of the land, this farmland within that area, there's very few acreages that are this size as it is. This should be broken down so it becomes more affordable and the proper use of land can take place."

The ALC will decide whether the subdivision can proceed.