City councillors went back and forth during Monday’s (July 11) meeting on whether to support temporary farm worker housing for a property in southeast Kelowna.
Khela Orchards is looking for council backing in its application to the Agricultural Land Commission to house 60 seasonal workers on their Hart Road property. Residents in the area are concerned about the narrow road in the area, as workers would be bussed in and out to other properties owned by Khela, and the proximity of the housing to their community.
The company owns approximately 560 acres over several parcels throughout the Central Okanagan.
Coun. Maxine DeHart asked staff if the housing could be placed on one of Khela’s other properties.
“I think with 560 acres, somewhere there’s got to be a spot for 60 workers that doesn’t impact the community,” she said.
Coun. Luke Stack said he felt the portion of the Hart Road property was a good location, but noted it puts the housing in the middle of a neighbourhood.
“I think this organization has many options it can pursue,” said Stack. “I think putting it in this location is destabilizing an existing neighbourhood, and for that reason, I can’t support it.”
Speaking on behalf of Khela Orchards, agrologist Carl Withler told council they are already a year-and-a-half into the application and moving it to another property would start the process over. He added the current site checks all the boxes.
“You set a very dangerous precedent in farming by popularity contest and who speaks the loudest,” said Withler. “It becomes challenging if we start skipping all over the valley looking for various locations for temporary farm worker housing.”
Staff told council the proposed location is ideal and that the applicant followed city policy in notifying neighbours. The application also has the support of the province’s Agriculture Advisory Committee. There was also a discussion about how difficult it is for orchardists and farmers to find workers.
“I understand that this has an impact on neighbourhoods,” added Withler. “I have farmed for 35 years. But I also understand there are no high-school kids coming to pick cherries, there’s no Quebecois. This is part of the industry now, it’s what we need.”
Coun. Loyal Wooldridge pointed out that approximately 40 percent of the city is in the Agriculture Land Reserve.
“In order for it to be sustainable we need to have labour, we need to have workers.”
Coun. Mohini Singh noted the issue is a constant tussle for council.
“But if our core values are agriculture, we want to see a greenbelt, we need to support the producer the best we can,” said Singh. “I understand the community feels impacted, but I have never seen a community that has spoken against an applicant come back and say ‘as we said it is terrible.”
Council voted to support Khela Orchards’ application with Councillors Stack and DeHart opposed.