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Migrant farm workers to get new Okanagan digs

A series of buildings constructed to  house the Okanagan's growing population of migrant workers got a tentative green light from city council Monday.

Kelowna farmer Chanchal Bal will be able to move in as many as 60 tenants into the 12 industrial style trailers built for temporary farm workers on his property at 550 Highway 33 in the next couple of weeks—assuming he finishes up some landscaping requirements.

Although the development was approved because it meets the standards of the Official Community Plan, and a need within the Okanagan to address housing issues for farm workers, the project is not controversy free.

As city staff pointed out, Bal levelled the land and placed the trailers on his property "prior to the issuance of required city permits."

Also, the proximity to neighbours, not to mention a stream and wetlands has created some concerns among area residents that, said Coun. Andre Blanleil, should be considered carefully.

"This is really a change in this neighbourhood," he said, pointing out that 60 to 80 new residents on the slope could become a "working disaster" if not managed well.

Blanleil pointed out that this style of migrant worker housing project hasn't been done in the Valley before, and it's a test that city officials need to watch "diligently."

"If it's a low cost neighbourhood, that's not what it's intended to be," he said. "We have an obligation to neighbours to make sure (it works.)"

Coun. Robert Hobson acknowledged the housing was needed, although he also expressed a desire to have checks and balances put in place moving forward.

"This will be seasonal and will only be April 1 to Oct. 31, so we should inspect at that time, (to make sure) nobody will be living there outside that period?" Hobson asked city staff.

He also asked if the new housing would be used by these working on Bal's property alone, or if anyone could live there and work elsewhere.

Workers, he was told, have to be employed by Bal to make use of the housing.

"My interest is we have clean safe housing for migrant workers," he said.

"I just want to make sure we have the best possible facilities for them. Only question i have is whether these conditions (sewer and neighbourhood buffering) can be met prior to occupancy?"

Apparently Bal has the means to make the changes in time.

In particular, they're going to lower the elevation of the 12 units, put in additional landscaping and painting, and construct a wall that will buffer the visual impact to neighbouring residences.

The permits were approved without the input from Couns. Mohini Singh and Colin Basran, who excused themselves from the discussion due to a conflict of interest.

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