Gleaners on the home stretch

January 21, 2010 6:00 PM

Supporters of the Gleaners packed the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen chambers on Thursday and got the outcome they were fighting for.

The local humanitarian group will continue to trudge forward with aspirations to upgrade their food processing plant near Oliver after RDOS rural directors rejected the recommendation to deny an application to subdivide the property the operation exists on.

The Gleaners take food from Okanagan producers that might have otherwise been wasted and prepare soup mix to be delivered to Third World countries with the help of humanitarian groups. They asked the RDOS to rezone the property where they work from to allow them to construct a new storage facility amongst other things.

Area C Director Allan Patton made it clear he was not against what the Gleaners do but is against any application that takes away from agricultural land. Patton and Area F Director Michael Brydon were the only votes supporting the denial of the application. Almost all of the municipal directors, who could not vote, voiced their support for the Gleaners and encouraged other directors to support their efforts.

“It means we are through that next hoop. Now how many hoops there are before we get to the Ministry of Transportation which takes all the information in and we can own the land?” said Don Chapman, chairman and property manager for the Gleaners. “This board voted against Allan Patton today in a very explicit way.”

Patton told the RDOS he saw no reason why other properties in the Oliver area wouldn’t suffice for the operation. He started going into detail why two specific sites would be appropriate before he was cutoff by chairman Dan Ashton, who said they were here only to vote on one piece of property and not to go into details of others.

“(Patton) bringing up the Sawmill Road was dirty business because that is not what we were here discussing. We made an assessment that it was a much more expensive venture that brought us closer to town which is not an advantage with youth groups — it’s a disadvantage. The idea of bringing it closer to town, which will eventually be an industrial park, we were basically against,” said Chapman, who led the Gleaners delegation.

Patton argued his point saying the Area Planning Commission was unanimously opposed to allowing the Gleaners to subdivide and there was plenty of hard work done in finding other suitable properties.

“I feel we have several options to offer to Gleaners that are better than what they have here now,” said Patton. “It’s the fact that we are subdividing farmland ... we are reducing our agricultural capabilities, reducing our food security in the process and I’m doing that because I never want Canadians to have to use the services you provide.”

The second recommendation by RDOS staff to zone the area Industrial (light) One Site Specific was given first and second reading. This will now go to public hearing with a date to be set in the next few weeks.



As you can see from the story, I voted against the proposed subdivision of agricultural land (here is the location of the parcel in question).  My opposition to this may be controversial so an explanation is in order: As was made abundantly clear during the debate, the issue has absolutely nothing to do with the Gleaners or the work they do.  Rather, our Official Community Plan and Regional Growth Strategy make it very clear that the integrity of agricultural land is a long-term strategic priority for the region.  As such, subdivision (and thus densification) of agricultural land should only occur as a last resort.  The issue before the RDOS board was whether this is indeed a last resort or whether viable alternatives to subdivision exist.  In my view, Director Patton from Electoral Area 'C' made a reasonable case in favor of an alternative plot of nearby land which is not in the ALR (a map of the Sawmill Road site).  He also outlined alternatives which left the Gleaners at their current site are but did not involve subdivision.  Unfortunately, I saw no convincing evidence that these alternatives had been explored systematically by the Gleaners.  Hence my reluctance to vote in favor of a last-resort measure.

At the end of the day, my view is this: subdivision of agricultural land is a one-way street—once it is done, it is irreversible.  So, although an exception here or an exception there may seem reasonable, the cumulative effect of exceptions over time is a patchwork of incoherent land use.  One does not have to drive too far in the valley to see examples of this.

Any comments?  This issue will be going to public hearing before it comes back to the RDOS for approval.