Large turnout to Cawston Hall to watch APC decide land use issue

APC meeting area "B" Cawston Agricultural land use issue

Approximately 30 residents of the Cawston area turned out to last Monday’s regional district Advisory Planning Committee meeting. They were concerned about the APC’s recommendation regarding a non-farm use of agricultural land at the south end of the community.

Approximately 30 residents of the Cawston area turned out to last Monday’s regional district Advisory Planning Committee meeting. They were concerned about the APC’s recommendation regarding a non-farm use of agricultural land at the south end of the community.

Approximately 30 concerned citizens turned up at the June 27 meeting of the Area “B” Advisory Planning Commission to watch the group make a decision regarding a land use referral to the Agricultural Land Commission.

Cawston Cold Storage recently applied for a “non farm use” on a property within the Agricultural Land Reserve. The apple storage company, which has holdings in Cawston, is applying for non-farm use on a nearby property at the south end of Main Street in Cawston in order to build a 28,900 square foot cold storage facility.

Five members of the advisory committee were on hand  Monday evening. They heard two delegations prior to deliberating the matter.

The 30 members of the public were not allowed to comment or ask questions during the meeting.

First to speak was Cawston Cold Storage representative Billy Potash. He explained that the application applied to a five acre parcel adjacent to the existing storage facility, further south along Stewart Road.

“Cawston Storage is the driving force behind the local organic tree fruit industry,” Potash said. “We are the largest private employer in the lower valley with a million dollar per year payroll.”

Potash explained further that the company in past years leased storage from the Keremeos facility of Okanagan Tree Fruits, in addition to leasing storage space in Tonasket, south of the border. He said those options were no longer viable, and CCS needed a solution to long term storage needs.

“Without storage, the industry doesn’t exist,” he stated, “we will shut down without it.”

Potash noted that a community was about more than just land – it was about employment opportunities as well.

 

“This (land) is the only packing solution for the organic industry,” he assured the committee. “We have been working on this since 2009 – looking for suitable property not in the ALR. We are asking to use two acres for non-farm use – the rest (of the parcel) is an organic certified property.

Potash further noted that the property being sought was already up for sale.

 

 

“We could buy it and put any kind of farm operation on it without due process,” he said.

“We’re trying to find a way through the process – a lot of people find a way around the process.”

 

Potash told the committee that “agritourism was paving over more farmland than anything  else,” commenting on the growth of the estate wine industry and its accompanying infrastructure occupying agricultural land.

Dan Taylor of Cawston Cold Storage also pointed out that the new cold storage facility would use the latest in European technology, using geothermal energy and recycled metal in the building’s construction. He also noted that transportation costs would be less by having the new facility adjacent to the existing one.

Cawston grower Moses Brown presented the case for those opposed to the land use request.

Brown said that the proposal called for the removal of 80,000 m3 of topsoil on prime agricultural land. He held in his hand a 140 name petition, signed by Cawston area residents opposed to the application, but the petition was not received by the APC.

Brown expressed concerns about expansion of the industrial area of Cawston, noting that “once paved over, land never returns to farm use.” Opposition to the land use matter also stemmed from a perceived lack of public input and consultation on the matter.

“Something as important as this should involve the whole community,” he said.

Brown further expressed support for Cawston Cold Storage, praising their efforts within the industry, but gave the opinion that other options were available to the company. He said that the 140 signature petition would be passed on to the Agricultural Land Commission.

 

“I don’t believe it’s the end of the world if it’s not built there,” Brown finished.

“Look at the middle of Keremeos – concrete pads where packinghouses used to be.

 

There is no reason to put it in Cawston – let’s farm Cawston,” he said to a wide round of applause. Brown also suggested that Cawston Cold Storage was pressuring the committee by saying that this particular piece of property was the only solution to their needs.

Members of the APC then spent several minutes discussing various aspects surrounding the proposal, with RDOS planner Chris Garrish observing that the committee had three options:

– oppose it

– support it

– support it conditionally

“We usually don’t have this many people listening to our discussions,” Area “B” Director George Hanson admitted to the public in attendance. The APC eventually elected to recommend the development to the Agricultural Land Commission, with conditions that include a covenant stipulating that the remainder of the property beyond the two acres requested would remain as agricultural land.

Cawston resident Jenny Edlington was one of the many residents disappointed at the board’s decision. She  felt that there was some potential for conflict of interest among a couple of APC members who she felt had business dealings with Cawston Cold Storage, and was very disappointed with the lack of public input that ultimately went into the committee’s decision. She plans to forward her concerns and the petition to the Agricultural Land Commission.

“I am absolutely committed to saving this land for future generations,” she said.

After the meeting, Hanson noted that the proposal had a well organized opposition, and responded to criticism that the land use request had not been well publicized.

“This is an ALC issue where the regional district is asked for an opinion,” Hanson explained.

“The procedure is to run it by the APC – there are many such requests made in the regional district.

If we had a community plan in place, we would then have a guarantee of a public forum for matters like this, but without one there are no bylaws and hence no ability to have public forums.”

As far as the potential for conflict of interest within the committee, Hanson explained that the definition involves having a pecuinary interest in the issue. While a couple of committee  members have business dealings with CCS, none of them stand to benefit financially from the decision.

The request will now go back to the Agricultural Land Commission, who ultimately make the final decision. The recommendation by the Area “B” APC  is non binding.