A five year legal battle between a poultry farmer and Langley Township ended this month with a judge ruling in favour of the farmer, but whether he will have to pay $110,000 in fines is still unknown.
The Dec. 16 ruling from Justice Gary P. Weatherill dismissed the Township’s petition against poultry farmer Garrett Broach and his company, declaring that Broatch has the legal right to process his poultry on his South Langley farm.
“We’re pleased with the outcome,” said Broatch. He’s looking forward to getting a building permit for his processing building, which the judge has ordered must be considered by the Township by the end of the month.
However, Broatch is still waiting to hear what will happen with $110,000 in fines the Township levied against him during the years-long dispute.
The legal fight goes back to 2016, when Broatch first applied for a rezoning to allow him build an abattoir for his poultry on his 40-acre farm in South Langley.
When the proposal went to a public hearing, several of his neighbours expressed concern about the impact of a chicken processing operation on the local aquifer, while others worried about the scale of the operation.
In August 2018, the council unanimously voted against the rezoning.
Then-councillor Angie Quaale issued a note of warning – she was concerned that the Ministry of Agriculture could override the Township’s decision under ‘right to farm’ legislation.
“This application is apparently in compliance with the Ministry of Ag standards, but it is very clear to me that it doesn’t meet the standards of the community,” she said.
According to Justice Weatherill’s ruling, Broatch did seek the intervention of the Ministry of Agriculture, as well as the Agricultural Land Commission and the BC Ombudsperson’s office.
“Through this entire ordeal, each government agency repeatedly expressed to the Township their view that its refusal to permit Mr. Broatch to process poultry on the property was inconsistent with the provisions of the ALCA [Agricultural Land Commission Act] and the LGA [Local Government Act],” said Weatherill’s ruling.
The Township argued that processing poultry was not “agricultural use,” and said only processing of things that are “grown” is permitted – saying in its legal arguments that chickens are raised, not grown.
The provincial government and the ALC disagreed, as did Weatherill.
“The Minister took the position that any prohibition or restriction of the use of the property for a farm business was not permitted unless the Township had first obtained approval from the Minister, which it had not,” Weatherill noted.
“When interpreted in context, the word ‘grown’ is sufficiently broad to encompass the rearing of animals,” the judge wrote in his ruling.
With the support of provincial authorities, Broatch in 2020 decided to just go ahead and build his processing plant, even without a permit.
The Township responded with daily $500 fines for months starting in August 2020. In total, they add up to approximately $100,000. Broatch has contested all of them.
Broatch ruled against all of the Township’s requests in their petition, and in favour of Broatch’s petition. Weatherill declared that on-farm processing is a permitted use under the property’s current RU-3 zoning, which could set a precedent for other farms around the community as well.
The only thing Weatherill did not rule on was whether the Township owed Broatch “special costs” for its flurry of $500 bylaw fines.
Weatherill reserved his decision on the special costs pending the outcome of a Township adjudication on the fines, which is upcoming.
However, the judge noted he was not pleased with the Township’s conduct of issuing the fines while it knew there was a legal challenge underway, and that Broatch had the backing of senior levels of government.
“If what occurred was not intimidation on the part of the Township, I find it difficult to imagine what would be,” Weatherill wrote.
A spokesperson said the Township is currently assessing the court’s ruling, including analysing implications and exploring options.
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