Farm stands take centre stage when Saanich council meets Monday.
During a virtual council meeting at 6:30 p.m. on May 4, Saanich councillors will consider a report from Coun. Nathalie Chambers calling for roadside stands selling produce, flowers and homemade goods to be temporarily permitted within the Urban Containment Boundary during the pandemic.
In the report submitted April 27, Chambers recommends council direct municipal staff to provide options for temporarily allowing roadside stands by the next meeting on May 11.
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said if council votes in favour of the recommendation – which he feels is likely – roadside stands won’t automatically be permitted. Staff would have the week to prepare a report regarding how a temporary permit might be implemented.
Farm stands have long been a controversial topic in Saanich as bylaws don’t permit roadside farm stands on private property. Katherine Little, owner of the Little Stand, began selling jam from a stand in her front yard in 2018. Bylaw officers told her to shut down in June 2019 and Little began fighting to change the bylaw.
Most recently, she’s been joined by Saanich florist Colleen O’Farrell whose business has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. After customers began cancelling, flowers piled up in her shop. In an effort to repurpose the blooms and make up for missed income, O’Farrell created a flower cart outside her home on Heath Drive.
She opened the stand in mid-March and enjoyed the interactions with neighbours while maintaining a safe distance. On April 22, in response to a complaint, a Saanich bylaw officer came knocking and gave her 30 days’ notice to shut down.
O’Farrell and Little understand that changing the bylaw – which has been under review since 2019 – would take time but feel that in this period of economic uncertainty, it’s important for Saanich council to be flexible.
“It is time for this bylaw to change for the better, allowing small businesses to pivot and flourish in our challenging economy,” O’Farrell wrote in a Change.org petition created on April 24 which had more than 3,000 signatures by May 2.
Chambers agrees and hopes her fellow councillors will see the need to support local businesses by temporarily allowing roadside sales.
Haynes emphasized that council is “acutely aware of the hardships” many residents are facing and the goal is to be “as compassionate as possible” while considering all sides of the issue.
“I certainly think that this is an important matter,” he said, “but we have to look at what is reasonable and appropriate for Saanich.”
He added that as public input during meetings is not currently an option as meetings are being conducted by conference call, residents are invited to provide input by email, mail or phone until noon on May 4.
Haynes said a staff report based on the review of Saanich’s farm stand bylaw should be coming to council in the next month or so.