A local organization that runs a faith-based recovery program will likely have to find a new home after a recent decision by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).
For more than five years, the Abbotsford Women’s Centre – which runs a program by Adult and Teen Challenge BC – has occupied a large house on a Winson Road property owned by the Fraser Valley Gleaners near the Sumas border crossing. The organization provides housing for up to 10 residents who live on the site and take part in an intensive rehab program.
But the house is located in the Agricultural Land Reserve and last month the ALC turned down a non-farm use application that would have allowed the organization to keep using the site indefinitely.
The decision, as it stands, will force the organization to move – but not immediately. In its decision, the ALC gave the Centre two years to find a new home, saying that it “understands that the supportive recovery home use offers an important societal service.”
Angie Appenheimer, the director of the centre, said the organization was “very disappointed” by the decision and will appeal it.
“The property we are on has various limitations for agriculture on its three acres, which is why we believe we best honor its land use through supportive recovery by giving vulnerable women being transformed out of addiction a place to call home,” Appenheimer said. “As part of our program, this property is a place where they can also enjoy the therapeutic benefit of a country atmosphere, working in our gardens, learning life skills and how to provide food for their families in future.”
Although the centre could appeal the decision, the uncertain timelines involved and the two-year window to move mean administrators are now hoping that a new, larger space can be found in Abbotsford for the centre, which has a long waiting list.
“Given the ALC decision, we are now asking our community, municipal and provincial government to help us find a larger centre for Women (and Children) to help meet our community crisis,” Appenheimer wrote in an email to The News. “We are here to collaborate with our community and its many social service providers to transform people’s lives – to give hope, to rebuild families and create productive members of society.”
In its decision, the ALC had ruled, simply, that the centre’s use of the home simply doesn’t provide a benefit agriculture – and thus don’t meet the commission’s mandate.
The panel ruled “that additional farm buildings and agricultural infrastructure may be required should the property be used for agriculture and that the presence of these non-farm buildings further reduces the amount of arable land available for agriculture.”
It continued: “the Panel finds that the continued use of the Property for non-farm purposes could alienate the Property from future agricultural endeavours.”
Given the rules, the panel said the centre should be located on non-agriculture lands.
While the centre hadn’t argued in its submission to the ALC that the use benefits agriculture, its application did note that the home in question was once a boarding house for disabled people and permitted. But after a fire destroyed that home, the house that replaced it could not take advantage of the previous building’s legally non-conforming status.
Appenheimer said the program has benefited from its quiet location on the edge of Abbotsford, but recognzied the objectives of the agricultural land reserve. She noted residents had built a vegetable garden that helped improve their life skills.
But now that the program is looking for a new home, Appenheimer said the ultimate goal would be both to expand while somehow keeping the current site as a second- or third-stage transition house.
Those looking to get in touch are asked to email Appenheimer at firstname.lastname@example.org. It will also still hold its annual Victory Walk-a-Run-a-thon, which is slated for Aug. 24 at Mill Lake.