Regional district directors disagree on lavender farm

Strathcona Regional District directors couldn't come to a consensus on a subdivision application of a Cortes Island lavender farm

A subdivision application for a Cortes Island lavender farm will go before the Agricultural Land Commission with no comment from the Strathcona Regional District after directors couldn’t come to a consensus.

The board spent more than half an hour debating whether it would support the application from Michael Ching to subdivide his 159.9 acre strata lot which houses a lavender operation.

Judy Khemchand, manager of Acre Lavender Farms, said Ching has planted 9,000 plus lavender trees, put in 30 fruit trees, a well, an automated irrigation system, has a lavender processing building under construction, and employs up to 14 workers during peak season.

He wants to expand the operation, which could mean five to eight more jobs, but Khemchand said Ching needs the subdivision of the parcel property, which also includes a gravel pit and an airstrip, to move forward.

“We’re looking for a subdivision to facilitate the lavender farm,” she told the regional district board at its March 26 meeting. “Subdivision will allow the lavender farm to be segregated from the others uses, making it easier for insurance and financing.”

But the strata council, which represents 22 properties including Ching’s, is concerned that if the subdivision goes through, it could alter the strata’s mandate.

“As the strata plan is designated for residential use and as the proposed subdivision may create strata lots established exclusively for non-residential use, the residential classification of the strata may be affected,” said Carl Simpson, president of the strata council. “The use of a strata lot for exclusively non-residential purposes may contravene the current bylaws of the strata corporation.”

He said the council also has a number of questions to help the owner-members have a better understanding of the impacts of the proposed subdivision but Ching has yet to answer them.

“The owners have not been provided with enough information,” Simpson said. “The majority at this point are opposed because of a lack of information.”

In order for the subdivision to proceed, 75 per cent of the strata owners have to vote in favour during the strata council’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), which is scheduled for August.

At last Thursday’s Strathcona Regional District meeting, the board of directors debated whether it would first send the subdivision application to the province’s Agricultural Land Review Commission as the property lies within the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Cortes Island Director Noba Anderson said while she supports the lavender farm and the work involved, she’s not convinced the subdivision would have an agricultural benefit.

“We are being asked to consider whether this is a benefit or a detriment to agriculture. I’ve taken a tour of the land and I’ve spoken to the owner and the agent and many of the neighbours and I fail to see how this property (subdivision) substantially benefits agriculture,” Anderson said. “I’m absolutely supportive of what’s happening on the ground there, it’s brilliant, there’s lots of people being employed, it’s organic, but I struggle to see how the subdivision will materially affect their ability to proceed with agriculture”

But Area A Director Gerald Whalley said he could understand why the owner wants the subdivision.

“I don’t think any business can function if it’s not financially viable,” Whalley said. “They told us they need this to make it financially viable and I accept that. Why not give them the chance to go ahead on it, with the Agricultural Land Reserve, let them decide and time will go by and then everybody can have a look at it. There’s a lot of room for compromise but if we stall it here, it’s dead, which seems unfair.”

In the end, the board voted to send the subdivision application to the Agricultural Land Reserve Commission, with Anderson opposed. The board, however, defeated a motion to provide support for the application.