Kelowna farm request turned down to host more events

A popular local agriculture business wants to host bigger events more often than the province allowances.

Hillcrest Farm

Asking to be allowed to host an unlimited number of events on Kelowna farmland between March and November, with as many as 500 people attending — and two of those events with as many as 1,000 people — just won’t fly with Kelowna city council.

Especially when the province has just changed the rules involving the non-farm use of farmland to allow 10 events such as wedding and concerts to be held per year on B.C. farms with a maximum of 150 people attending each event.

On Monday, Kelowna councillors rejected a bid by the owners of a popular local farm and agriculture-related business to get a special permit to supersede the province’s new allowance.

The Bal family, which owns and operates Hillcrest Farm on Highway 33, wanted to hold more events with bigger crowds because, they say, the provincial allowance is too small for a major operation like theirs.

Hillcrest, which is a major producer of cherries and apples, already has a bed and breakfast operation, a cafe and a farm market.

Suk Bal said while the new provincial allowance may fit smaller farms with smaller costs, a larger operation like his would be better served by having more events.

The farm has an area that he said is perfect for outdoor gatherings, would be monitored by members of his family during events, is located 300 feet from the nearest house and would be surrounded by trees to help buffer sound from the site during events.

But councillors balked at the request for an unlimited number of events, particularly because the province’s allowance has just come into effect.

The province allows farms to host the 10 events over the spring, summer and fall months as a way for helping generate revenue to help with farm costs.

Bal said any money made from events would be ploughed back into farm operations.

Several councillors suggested the Hillcrest owners work with the 10 events per year to start, and show the city events can be held there without incident or complaints from neighbours.

Bal likely did not help his cause by accusing Coun. Maxine DeHart of conflict during a question and answer session with council, saying she should have excused herself from the discussion because she works for a hotel in the city.

While DeHart’s questions were sharp and she did repeatedly say she has experience hosting large events at her hotel—though none as big as 500 or 1,000 people—city clerk Stephen Fleming said she was not in conflict as the events Bal was asking to host were bigger than DeHarts hotel could host.

Both Mayor Colin Basran and Coun. Mohini Singh did excuse themselves from the discussion because of conflicts. Singh is good friends with the Bal family and Basran parent live on land adjacent to the farm.

As it stands, because the Ministry of Agriculture changed the rules involving non-farm events that can be hosted on farmland, the Hillcrest owners can proceed with holding up  to 10 events between March 15 and Nov. 30 next year, with as many as 150 people attending each event, without city council approval.

Bal said most events, however, would like be attended by 30 to 40 people.

The farm has a mobile kitchen and plans to cater using food either from the farm or locally sourced.

In the past, the city and the Bal’s have clashed over the farms operations and what is, and is not, allowed on the property.