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With housing denied, owner opts for 12,000-bird poultry farm
A Saanich property owner plans to open a sizable poultry farm amid a residential neighbourhood after the district twice denied his family's plans to redevelop the land as housing.
Gordon Alberg is proposing to build four barns, which would house 12,000 birds (laying hens, broiler chickens and guinea fowl), an administration building and an equipment maintenance building, on his four acre property at 1516 Mount Douglas X Rd.
"(Building a poultry farm) wasn't our plan. It wasn't our first choice, it wasn't our second choice," Alberg said. "It's the only alternative that we have left to do. It's what council is telling us they'd like to see because it's farmland."
The Alberg property, not far from the southern tip of Mount Doug Park, is within the provincial agricultural land reserve (ALR), while most of the neighbouring properties have long been carved off for single family homes.
"If you want to save farmland you have to live with it being farmed," remarked Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard after learning the land has been proposed to become a poultry farm.
"I feel badly all around. … Most of the opposition (at council meetings) wasn't from neighbours, but was from people who were there around the principle of saving farmland," he said.
Most recently, on July 23, Saanich council voted 5-4 to protect farmland and oppose removing the property from the ALR. The four dissenting voters, which included Leonard, argued that keeping the land in the ALR could result in a farming operation that would be much more intrusive on neighbours than 12 homes and a community garden.
"The definition of farming under the (Right to) Farm Act can be quite aggressive," Leonard said.
Alberg, 70, owns the property with his two siblings. They inherited it from their mother after she passed away.
He said it's a sad situation, as his family has spent thousands of dollars over the last five years creating a plan to develop the property that the majority of neighbours support. Saanich staff recommended approval, but a majority of council did not support it.
"Some councillors decided to grandstand on this thing for political aspirations, not realizing the backfire on it," Alberg said.
"We have to do something with it before we're out of the picture," he added, referencing his and his siblings' advancing years. "We have to find the best use for it. … We wanted the nicest looking subdivision possible."
If the poultry farm plan gets the OK, Alberg anticipates the operation will be leased out.
Poultry farming is a permitted use of farmland and Saanich staff is now reviewing the plan to ensure it conforms with bylaws and setbacks. "They are applying to build something based on the existing zoning and the fact that they are in the ALR," said Sharon Hvozdanski, Saanich's director of planning.
"This is one of those public policy, no-win files," Leonard said. "And it's a good one for everyone to take a second look at to think through the consequences of the status quo."
And while Alberg says he feels as if his family "hit brick walls until this was the only option left," he isn't entirely defeated.
"We could sell it outright, but after 70 years of owning it, we'd certainly like to see some kind of legacy. This will be a legacy, but not the one we wanted."