Kelowna council approves ‘village’ of farm worker accommodations

Trailers providing sleeping, eating and washroom facilities for temporary foreign farm workers on a Kelowna orchard get the green light.

The need for temporary farm workers to pick fruit in local orchards—or rather accommodation for them—has trumped concerns by residents about creating a “small village” of trailers on a Kelowna orchard.

On Monday, Kelowna council approved a plan to allow a local family that farms a total of 230 acres in the city to install 10 large trailers on a corner of their Swainson Road orchard. The six sleeping, two dining, one washroom and one recreation room trailers will provide temporary accommodation for 60 farm workers and would be used for about 50 days during the year.

The proposal passed in a 7-1 vote, with only Coun. Charlie Hodge opposed.

Coun. Mohini Singh, who like the rest of her council colleagues said she was inundated with calls and emails from concerned residents living near the Swainson Road farm, described the plan to locate the trailers on each side of a road access that crosses part of the farm leading to two neighbouring houses as a “little village.”

Singh said the farming family is one of the biggest apple producers in the valley and needs hundreds of workers each year to pick fruit. Those workers, who come here from Mexico, need temporary accommodation.

She said she heard loud and clear that residents are not happy about he plan, having concerns about traffic, noise, access to their properties and impacts on their privacy.

But while Singh and her colleagues expressed sympathy for the residents, they said the land in question is a working farm, it’s in the Agricultural Land Reserve and such accommodations are required.

“It doesn’t matter where they go, there’s going to be somebody who doesn’t like it,” said Mayor Colin Basran.

The request to allow the accommodations came after council rejected a similar bid by the same applicant last year. That bid was rejected because council did not like the permanent nature of the building proposed and its size (to house 80 temporary foreign farm workers.) It was slated for the same property.

Because of the size of its entire farm operation, the applicant needs an estimated 250 foreign workers this year in total,council was told. It already has approval for temporary accommodations for 48 temporary farm workers at another property it owns in the city.

One of the issues raised by council during its discussion was the city’s stipulation that such a requests only needs to be circulated among residents who live within 300 meters of an affected property. Several councillors said they would like to see that radius expanded because of the impact on an area from such a plan.

In the end, only Hodge voted against it, saying while he recognized the need for such accommodations, and the need for foreign farm workers, he felt a better location could be found.