Roost crowing about big plans on the farm

A trip by Hamish Crawford and his wife Bonnie to Napa, California has led to big plans to redevelop his farm property and The Roost

The Roost Bakery’s Dallas Bohl looks over a model of the castle.

A trip by Hamish Crawford and his wife Bonnie to Napa, California four years ago has led to big plans to redevelop his farm property and The Roost Bakery in North Saanich.

The pair visited the V Sattui winery where its owner had built a stone castle — its rocks and craftsmen all brought to California from Europe. That building, says Dallas Bohl, Hamish’s son-in-law who runs The Roost, sparked plans for a Scottish Baronial structure that most people have simply termed ‘the castle’. The estimated $1 million-plus project is approximately 11,000 square feet with a courtyard in the middle of a two-storey, square structure. The building will accommodate much of the farm’s current operations — a wine cellar, restaurant, tasting room and wood brick oven and create space for a dungeon, equipment storage and 10 farm stay rooms. The Roost Bakery will remain where it is.

About a year ago, said Bohl, the owners went to the Agricultural Land Commission to clear the design and their plans to enhance their farm activities.

“We were told by the ALC that we were doing too much farming,” he said, adding ALC staff were at first reluctant to allow it without applications for non-farm use permits.

Bohl said that seemed to go against what the board members on the ALC were encouraging in the way of value-added development of farm operations, so they got their lawyer involved.

“We did make an application for a non-farm use permit but we withdrew it,” Bohl explained. “It felt wrong to send a message that value-added farming was not necessarily what the ALC wanted.”

In the end, their plans were deemed pre-approved farm use. While the ALC, he said, does not issue permits or give projects a green light, they are there in case something goes wrong.

The application for a development permit has since gone before North Saanich district council. Mayor Alice Finall says the building falls within the ALC framework and guidelines — meaning council’s only say in the matter is on the project’s form and character, as well as traffic impacts. With a new main access planned for along McTavish Road, the B.C. transportation ministry is reviewing any issues.

“Apart from that,” she said, “for this type of development permit, if it adheres to the guidelines, we cannot do much.”

That said, she added it’s an interesting design, not unattractive and overall the project explores additional methods of marketing local farming.

Finall said council has heard people’s concerns about noise, traffic and even the 10 rooms proposed for the castle. The rooms are allowed under ALC rules and Finall said any noise complaints would be dealt wit under the district’s current bylaws.

Bohl said he doesn’t expect there to be additional noise, despite the fact that once complete, the redevelopment will make The Roost and the Highland House Farm a year-round operation. With much of the activity planned for the courtyard, he said noise will be reduced.

The issue of 10 rentable rooms at the castle has also been brought up and Bohl is quick to point out that it’s no motel.

“This will be a 10-room, short stay bed and breakfast,” he said. “I want it to be event-and-tour-based with the focus on the farm operation.

“A motel here won’t work. The farm has to be the star here.”

Bohl said he sees the project as a hub for North Saanich’s farming activity — a place to help direct visitors to other agricultural sites, from local farms to roadside stands.

The traffic study, said Bohl, should be completed by mid-July. Pending the outcome of North Saanich’s permitting process, he said he hopes to break ground on the first phase of the castle by September, with a full buildout complete by 2016.