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New housing/farming mix being investigated


The Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) has committed staff time to investigate how a new kind of housing/farming mix dubbed a smart farm can take shape on the Coast.

The smart farm idea was pitched by Chad Hershler of Deer Crossing the Art Farm at a planning meeting in December after he successfully completed phase one of the Smart Farm Project, a series of four smart farm case studies on the Coast.

A smart farm, Hershler said, is a new “innovation in local zoning” that would allow increased housing on small-lot acreages outside the agricultural land reserve (ALR). It’s basically co-housing with a farming component.

Hershler said three of the four case study groups are eager to start up, but he noted there were concerns identified in the case study around water usage, grey- and black-water systems, farm management, commercial activities in residential areas, exit strategies and financing requirements.

He said the concerns “represent a seemingly complex web of barriers that stops any progressive development from moving forward.”

In an effort to pave the way, Hershler asked for a commitment of staff time to solve the concerns and come up with a process to allow the new type of housing in the SCRD.

He noted the plan fit within a number of stated SCRD goals to advance opportunities for farmers, to support innovative construction approaches to housing and to promote food security.

At the Jan. 8 planning and development committee meeting, directors said they were generally in favour of the idea; however, a few concerns were raised.

Pender Harbour/Egmont director Frank Mauro said he felt dedicating staff time to the project was worthwhile, but he was concerned about “using the staff time up.”

Halfmoon Bay director Garry Nohr had the same concern.

“I’m trying to be ethical here, but that person keeps coming back every year with a new initiative. I would hate to see it become that you’re like a lawyer on call all the time. So we should set down four or five meetings in the year for this so that’s the amount of hours you’re giving and that’s it,” Nohr said.

General manager of planning and development Steve Olmstead noted staff could accommodate Hershler’s request for help.

“This is simply an ask for time so it does become part of our work plan; it’s something we can fit in,” he said.

Sechelt director Alice Lutes registered her support.

“I think this is groundbreaking because it isn’t being done anywhere and we don’t know where it’s going to lead us,” Lutes said. “It’s the same issue everywhere. Land’s too expensive to farm, but we need the food, so I would hope that we can find some other sources of funding to encourage this growth.”

Directors gave their support in principle and directed staff to work with Hershler.