Jodie Lucas and Will Gemmell, owners of the Rusted Rake Farms, had their non-farm use application to the Agricultural Land Commission denied. — Michael Briones photo

Popular Vancouver Island eatery closing after ALC rebuffs application for non-farm use

Rusted Rake Farm owners say 15 people to lose their jobs

Jodie Lucas tried hard to hold back the tears Friday, as she talked about the closing of popular Nanoose Bay eatery, the Rusted Rake Farm.

She and partner Will Gemmell were informed on Aug. 5 their application for non-farm use in the Agricultural Land Reserve land (to permit a restaurant and brewery) was denied by the Agricultural Land Commission.

They will shut down their business for good at the end of the day on Sunday, Sept. 8.

“It means 15 people have lost their jobs today,” said Lucas. “Staff who have committed themselves to us. A community loses this establishment. I lose my job. It’s heartbreaking.”

The property, a 7.2-hectare parcel, is located on 3106 Northwest Bay Rd., in Electoral Area E in the Regional District of Nanaimo. It has a restaurant but the owners also have other agricultural applications on the property as they raise barley and wheat, beef, mixed vegetables and fruits.

Lucas said they were expecting the non-farm use application to be rejected but were caught off-guard when their brewery permit was also denied. As the ALC requires farm-to-table eatery to have a brewery or a winery, they went on to build one on their property. But it was also rejected.

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The issues began in October of 2017, when the ALC’s compliance and enforcement notified Lucas and Gemmell to cease their unauthorized non-farm use activity and required them to seek approval from the commission. The owners eventually applied for a permit to build a brewery and also to continue to operate the restaurant.

The process included RDN staff visiting the farm. They did not endorse the already erected building where the restaurant is located as it did not receive permits from the regional district prior to or after construction and operation.

In its conclusion, the ALC panel stated there is no suggestion that the provisions for a food and beverage service lounge or other food service applies to any other farm uses. The property is also not zoned for commercial use.

Gemmell said they have no intention of pursuing the matter any further. They’ve already invested approximately $300,000 in the restaurant and another $100,000 in the brewery.

“As far as the ALC is concerned, that would be another $1,500 application for them to scrutinize us, plus the local government scrutinizes us,” said Gemmell. “Do we want to go through all of that again after two years of dealing with this, and really have no future plans for our farm? It’s really taken a lot of wind out of our sails.”

Gemmell believes there something wrong with the ALC process when all they are trying to do is work on turning their farm into a successful business. He said it’s clearly evident they have an agricultural operation on their land.

“We don’t want to sell our produce in a front stand at the front of the property to compete with all the rest of the neighbours,” said Gemmell.

Nanoose Bay residents, who frequent the restaurant, are upset that they are losing a favourite food and coffee hangout.

“It’s a major centre in our community,” said Linda Enns. “It’s one of the best 10 places to go to in British Columbia. We like this farm-to-table stuff. We’re sad to see this close.”

Lyse Cantin said it’s beautiful to have a small restaurant like this in Nanoose Bay, providing them a relaxing venue where friends can meat for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

“We frequent the place,” said Cantin. “People are in tears when they learned that it is closing down.”

Parksville Qualicum Beach MLA Michelle Stilwell was critical of the ALR and the NDP government.

“Rather than simply closing down any business that doesn’t follow their strict rules to the letter, the ALC needs to take into account the unique context of applications and work with owners and farmers to reach a resolution that best serves the local community,” said Stilwell. “If the current government continues to stifle agricultural business, local farmers – and the British Columbians they serve – are going to be the ones paying the price.”

Michael.Briones@pqbnews.com

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