RDOS pondering farm worker housing in Summerland

More farm worker housing?

The owner of a rural Summerland cherry farm will find out this week if he gets approval for a 41-bedroom housing unit to be used by seasonal farm workers.

Despite neighbour concerns about water usage and increased traffic, Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen staff are recommending the district board approve the amended zoning for the 65.84-hectare Meadow Valley farm with nearly 28 hectares of newly-planted cherry trees.

The proposed housing would consist of 14 pre-fabricated mobile trailers and two kitchens, and will be discussed and potentially approved this week.

Applicant Keith Carlson wants to house around 64 seasonal farm workers for harvest and other busy times.

In 2019, the Agricultural Land Commission approved the two-storey housing on the condition that it could be removed and was not a permanent structure.

On Dec. 19, 2019, the district board gave first and second reading for the proposal.

A public hearing was held on Jan. 28 with 32 members of the public in attendance. The majority spoke against the farm worker housing.

Several at the meeting expressed their concern with the increased water consumption by the incoming farm workers, when the supply is so limited for the area already.

Another concern is the increased traffic on the rural roads, and several neighbours pointed out that the farm is not on a bus route or within walking distance to amenities the workers will need.

Others worried about wildfire safety and whether the septic system is good enough to handle the increase of people.

No one opposed the cherry farm itself.

At the public hearing, Carlson said that a lagoon has been built to store water and has been used to suppress wildfires in the past.

He added that with regard to traffic, 14-person vans are available to shuttle people to town. During the five to six week harvest period Carlson anticipates a minor increase in truck traffic.

RDOS staff noted in their report that the impact of an additional 64 seasonal residents on traffic volumes and roads, and the rural area, is unknown and unprecedented. Adjacent properties to the east are residential, not agricultural, and may be impacted through loss of privacy, noise, or other factors associated with the intensity of the proposed use.

Despite these notes, staff recommend the board approve the dwelling. Board members will debate the matter on Thursday.

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