Richmond has lost its case against a local berry grower whose signage pointing the way to his fruit stand was ticketed by a bylaw enforcement officer this summer.
Bill Zylmans of W&A Farms was fined $1,000 this past June over signage on Westminster Highway at the foot of Knight Street promoting his fresh strawberries. The sign, which he’s placed at the location every year since 1978, was considered a safety hazard by municipal bylaw enforcement officers.
According to the city, the sign was a potential distraction for motorists. The distraction could cause a collision, the city claimed, and was obstructing crash barriers meant to address accidents.
But during a hearing in provincial court this week, the officer who issued the ticket was unable to provide sufficient details as to the location of the sign. This caused the city’s case against Zylmans to collapse as there wasn’t conclusive evidence that the sign was on municipal property and therefore within the city’s jurisdiction.
Zylmans is happy to avoid paying $1,000, a fine he says was out of proportion compared to those handed out for similar infractions. But he says penalizing the promotion of local produce was a bigger issue, and didn’t make a lot of sense to him.
“It left a real foul taste in my mouth about how agriculture is being treated in a municipality that used to be 80% agriculture,” he said, noting that Richmond used to have 500 acres of strawberries. “This was no way to treat agriculture, this is no way to enhance and promote and preserve agriculture. … What kind of a message are we sending here?”
Zylmans looks forward to working with Richmond to develop a policy regarding signage promoting local farm stands.
“What I’m hoping is that the city is going to come forward and work with me and do a promotional program,” he said.
Richmond’s director of corporate communications Clay Adams said the city has no problem with signage promoting farm sales or agriculture. However, it wants those signs to respect the law.
“We have no concern with signage that promotes farming,” he said. “But we expect it to be compliant with bylaws.”
He said the city’s bylaw officers seldom issue fines and typically take “an education approach.” The city will be working to educate farmers in the run-up to next season to make sure they’re aware of what’s required to measure up under local sign bylaws.