Woodwynn Farms in Central Saanich seeking worker housing

A society that helps homeless people is hoping to accommodate more at their farm.

Richard Leblanc

Richard Leblanc

A society helping homeless people in Greater Victoria is hoping to accommodate more at their Central Saanich farm.

Woodwynn Farms Creating Homefulness Society has applied to the District of Central Saanich for additional housing on their property on West Saanich Road.

That application is now expected to be sent on to the B.C. Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).

The Society’s application seeks additional housing on the property for up to 40 workers, with plans to increase that number over the next three years as their farm production increases.

“The housing is proposed to be clustered within a roughly two acre area near the centre of the property,” said the District’s Planner Bruce Greig.

Given that the Agriculture A1 municipal zoning allows for a secondary suite in the farm house, the request would also need a Temporary Use Permit.

“This is a bit of a unique application …” said Greig.

“Typically things like institutional uses in support of housing are seen as sort of one land use, and farm worker housing would be very separate land use, and this is proposing to blend them.”

He said that should be weighed on if the plans are supportive of the agricultural production and other impacts on agriculture or on neighbouring farms.

What’s being proposed is removable forms of housing. Woodwynn is proposing to use recreational vehicles (RVs). Greig said that’s problematic as long-term housing.

In discussions with the Distirct’s Agricultural Advisory Commission, the applicant has noted they’re willing to look into other forms of removable housing.

After a lengthy discussion on the application, the Ag. Commission still had some unanswered questions around the farm’s production. They stated they couldn’t support the application based on the size and type of production.

They did, however, recommend the location for potential housing as it’s central, and stated they understood the rationale for that location, as it would minimize the impact on other farm operations. They also felt the farm should be required to implement some form of accounting system to have better information on what is being produced and how much.

Central Saanich council had a variety of questions at a recent committee meeting. One was about whether farm production on site would be able to keep 40 more people working.

Mayor Ryan Windsor added that Woodwynn’s proposed length of growth for housing on the farm, coincides with the District’s maximum length of a Temporary Use Permit (three years). He asked staff for an example of a Temporary Use Permit elsewhere in the District where over the three years the use allowed expanded from small to growing.

Greig said they’ve been more or less fixed over the term of the Temporary Use Permit and gave examples of camping and campsites throughout the Peninsula where that is the case.

Windsor also asked if there is the option to go less than three years. Greig said Temporary Use Permits can be issued for up to a maximum of three years.

Councillor Bob Thompson asked if the District should be concerned over this application having affects, including  other farms making similar applications. He noted the District doesn’t have a policy in place in regards to farm worker housing.

“The issue of farm worker housing has been a long debate on the Saanich Peninsula with Vantreight farms — a number of years ago — turned down and I’m hoping that the applicant understands that the idea of farm worker housing is a challenge for the ALR and Central Saanich,” he said.

Greig said the District is doing preliminary work on their bylaws to allow different forms of farm worker housing. As for the Vantreight application, Gerig said the farm went in a different direction, ending the application.

In responding to their plans to increase the homeless people on the farm and the farm production itself, Richard Leblanc, Woodwynn’s executive director, said it’s being done to meet demand.

“From an infrastructure perspective, for instance this year, we’re adding one more greenhouse. We’ve got two large greenhouses. We’ve got one more we wanted to put up and we intend to keep going with greenhouses,” said Leblanc.

He said they also hope to grow their herds of cattle and pigs and just received a permit for 2,000 broilers (chickens).

Leblanc said that the people they have on the farm are increasing and will need more opportunities.

The first step for the District is forwarding the application to the ALC, as suggested, and get their feedback and information. The municipality also plans to forward the information to the Tsartlip Band Council for comment as they’re a neighbour to the property. If approved by the ALC, the application would come back to the District to finalize the Temporary Use Permit.