South Okanagan vineyard housing temporary foreign workers in unpermitted dwellings ordered to get into compliance

Winery ordered to comply

A South Okanagan vineyard with unpermitted dwellings on its property has been ordered to rectify the situation or face legal action.

At Thursday's Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen board meeting, directors heard that a Fruitvale Way property in rural Oliver used by Gold Hill Winery has been in contravention of local bylaws, having constructed residential units within a structure that is permitted to be used as a farm storage shed only.

In early 2021, the renovations including adding residential plumbing were noted by an RDOS inspector, and over the subsequent two years, multiple warnings, stop work letters, final notices and the like were sent to the property owners asking them to bring the building into compliance.

Most recently, in June 2022, an employee of the owners told the RDOS they would be applying to the Agricultural Land Commission to start the necessary re-zoning process to allow residential structures.

That has not happened. Staff recommended the board give the owners until July 2023 to get into compliance, before injunctive action be commenced.

Jesci Parsons, an administrative operations assistant at Gold Hill, appeared in person at Thursday's board meeting to address the matter.

She said the building in question is still partially being used for farm equipment storage, the purpose for which an original bylaw exemption was granted in 2009, but it is now also housing for foreign workers.

"It is up to safety codes, there are fire alarms, extinguishers, everything," Parsons said, explaining the dwelling was inspected by federal authorities checking on their eligibility to hire foreign workers.

"I know we don't have the building permits and I know that is what needs to be required for moving forward with the house but it is safe living conditions."

Parsons explained that Gold Hill has 125 acres of vineyards and foreign workers are arriving next week.

"Without them we wouldn't be a viable farm," Parsons said, adding they have found it nearly impossible to tempt Canadian workers.

"I can tell you, we don't get any applicants for labour in the farm because it is difficult work and Canadians don't want to do it. It's just too hard. And even with [Canadian] workers at the winery before, they would last maybe a week. The conditions are tough."

The board was, overall, sympathetic to the winery's staffing issue, but unimpressed that the owners had not responded to many years of notice about their activities.

"It seems a little bit disrespectful of the process that we're trying to put in place, and that we hold other people accountable for," director Riley Gettens said.

"I feel like we have to kind of stand by our bylaw officers here, they've given fair notice over and over and over, I think this is a problem ... In June the owner said she was going to start the application, and then in December, there was no further contact so, this is where we are."

"They substantially need to do something," agreed director and board chair Mark Pendergraft.

The board voted to move forward with the proposed motion, which gives the property owners until July to get Agricultural Land Commission approval for the dwellings and get proper RDOS building permits.

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