A locally owned and operated business in Oliver is working to rally community support after dealing with unplanned bureaucratic hurdles from the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen on their property.
For the past seven years, Chris Van Hooydonk and his family have worked to build Backyard Farm, a combination of a culinary experience tied with sustainable farming teachings.
“It’s very simply a culinary and agricultural experience where we tried to tie together the idea of food culture, farm culture and the ability for myself and my wife to raise our family on this beautiful piece of land.”
As a chef and a farmer, Hooydonk and the family host private bookings and tours on their property, which is not open to the public, along with culinary demonstrations, with a maximum of up to 20 guests. Like many others, the business was hit hard during the pandemic, with fewer bookings and catering events.
Hooydonk decided it would be best to build an outdoor space for the visitors to dine, allowing for a patio dining space option while adhering to COVID-19 regulations. When he submitted the application for the development to the RDOS and started work, he said the RDOS suddenly had issues with his business, requesting that they apply for a temporary use permit.
“We really are just heartbroken that we have to go through all this after so much already with the COVID-19 pandemic and we just really hope that the RDOS board, the public and the [Advisory Planning Commission] will put lots of consideration into what we’ve built,” Hooydonk explained.
The RDOS posted a stop work order on April 15.
“They’ve misinterpreted our operation as a restaurant that basically is exploiting agricultural land for the benefit of financial gain which is not the case. This very simply is a means for us to support our family and to bring awareness of food security into our region as well.”
Due to what Hooydonk says is a “misinterpretation” of their business as a “food and beverage service establishment” in agriculture land zoning, the RDOS deemed them non-compliant on Agricultural Land Reserve land and issued a stop work order on their backyard build.
Hooydonk mentioned that the rural area’s RDOS director, Rick Knodel, suggested that it would be best to apply for a temporary use permit from the RDOS, which will allow them to operate for three years while they attempt to rezone.
“Unfortunately, the bureaucracy takes a lot of time and six weeks of having to focus my efforts on just staying in business rather than focus my efforts on getting back into business, has not only been incredibly stressful for myself and my family, but I also have my staff,” he explained.
“I feel that the stance of the regional district based on the growth of the community and the region, needs to be a little bit more open minded in their approach. Their interpretation of what a business is doing, should be more about encouraging how a business can be in compliance, rather than strictly being compliant.”
While Hooydonk was hoping to move through the process without too much noise, he was informed that letters of support and community voices would add to his case for the RDOS to consider. So far, he has gathered over 50 pages of letters with more pouring in.
“I’ve learnt more about the politics and bureaucracy than I’ve ever wanted to, but the reality is that we know there’s a community that’s beside us, fighting for us to stay in business. My family and everybody who’s ever been a part of this business is very grateful for everybody’s support.”