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Abbotsford greenhouse grower looks to build apartment building to house up to 104 farmworkers

‘Innovative’ proposal set for a public hearing later this month

The operator of two large Abbotsford greenhouse operations have come up with a unique solution to the challenge of housing the temporary farmworkers who bring in their crops each year.

The operator of Calais Farms and Gravis Farms, which runs about 32 acres of greenhouses in Abbotsford, has applied to the city to construct a new four-storey apartment building on Granite Avenue in central Abbotsford that could house around 104 farmworkers.

Thousands of seasonal farmworkers live in Abbotsford and tend the fields of its farms. Those workers are housed in a variety of ways; some farms rent houses for its workers, while others create temporary accommodations on the farms themselves.

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The proposal from Calais and Gravis would likely be the first of its kind to be built specifically for farmworkers in Abbotsford. To go forward, council must approve several variances and a text amendment to explicitly allow up to four residents per bedroom in the building, which would have 11 units and a total of 26 bedrooms.

That would allow for as many as 104 residents in the building, which would sit on a quarter-acre property currently occupied by a single house. An additional unit would be for the building’s manager.

The apartment would also include an amenity room and gym for residents.

A staff report notes that the farms’ operators are planning to expand, and that about 90 per cent of their labour is done by seasonal workers from Mexico or Guatemala.

Council voted to send the project to a public hearing will be held on Sept. 14.

Mayor Henry Braun and several councillors said the approach was an innovative way to house seasonal workers.

“Housing migrant workers is an issue in every agricultural community, but especially ours,” Braun said. “I hope other farmers will take note because this is a better solution than putting 100 units of housing on farmland.”

Although the building is being constructed with the aim of housing farmworkers, staff say the design will allow the owners to convert it to a more traditional format if necessary in the future.

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