Over the objections of neighbours to the north and south, Kelowna city council has approved a plan to allow a large cherry grower to provide seasonal housing for 140 foreign workers on his north Kelowna farm.
The housing, two clusters of temporary dormitories just off Shanks Road, would be used by workers required by David Geen’s large cherry-growing operation that includes several properties in the Kelowna and Lake Country areas.
Geen plans to build a large new packing plant on the Shanks Road farm as well and many of the workers would work there. He will also improve the road under an agreement with the city and plans to provide an outdoor eating area between the two clusters of dormitories.
As part of his plan, he will also build a large water reservoir on the property between one cluster and the northern boundary of the Coral Beach Farm.
At a public hearing earlier this week, residents of the two nearby properties asked council to reject the temporary farm worker housing proposal because they felt housing of 140 workers so close to their homes—despite promises to shield the housing with treed buffers, other vegetation, earth berms and fencing—will decrease their property values and their quality of life.
“This isn’t why I invested my money here and it’s not fair,” said the owner of the adjoining property to the south.
The daughter of the woman who owns the property to the north said her mother, who recently had a stroke, is also concerned.
But councillors said they felt they had to support agriculture, noting Geen’s cherry operation is very large and needs the foreign seasonal workers.
Geen said the housing will only have 140 workers for a few months in the summer and at other times, in the spring and fall, will have fewer residents. Under the city’s rules, if the temporary housing is not used for two consecutive seasons, it must be removed.
The foreign workers Geen’s operation uses come from Mexico and Jamaica and were described as hard-working and conscientious.
The proposal had the support of city staff, who said the housing is appropriate despite being larger than the housing for 40 workers the city rules currently allow. The dormitories will be located on land that is part of the farm but is not in the Agricultural Land Reserve.
While Coun. Gail Given called the proposal the best plan for temporary farm worker housing she had seen, her council colleague Mohini Singh defended foreign farm workers who come here to work.
Singh said in light of some comments made at the public hearing concerning safety, she felt compelled to point out that the city has had no reports of any criminal activity associated with foreign farm workers.
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