Metro Vancouver farmer fights fine for 41-year-old strawberry sign

Richmond News

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One of Richmond’s longest serving and most respected farmers is pleading for common sense to prevail in a dispute with the city over a strawberry sign.

Bill Zylmans – whose family has owned and operated more than 500 acres at W & A Farms on Westminster Highway near No. 8 Road for more than 50 years – was hit with a $500 bylaw infraction ticket on Tuesday.

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The offending item was a 10 foot by five foot sign, promoting his strawberries, attached to his trailer sitting on city land, off to the side of Westminster Highway at Knight Street.

The sign, Zylmans told the Richmond News, has been at the location during the very short, month-long strawberry season since 1978.

After several discussions with the city’s bylaw department, the $500 ticket has been rescinded, but on the premise the farmer take the sign down immediately.

“It’s an industry sign, telling everyone that strawberries are happening, not just my crop. A ton of people will know they are in after seeing that sign,” an exasperated Zylmans said Thursday.

“Somebody new at city hall doesn’t like me and I don’t know why. I’ve been putting that same sign up for 16 years and an older one before that, both at the exact same place.

“It’s tied to a trailer, it’s not interfering with traffic. It’s only up in strawberry season and then comes down a few weeks later when the season finishes. It went up Saturday.”

Zylmans said a bylaw officer came by his farm on Tuesday and issued the ticket, saying the sign had to be gone by 4 p.m.

“I said, ‘that’s not gonna happen.’ I was told I’d get another ticket if I don’t take it down,” added Zylmans.

“The sign is still there and it’s going to stay there until strawberry season is done in a few weeks.”

City spokesperson Ted Townsend told the News that Zylmans’ sign “cannot remain on public property, as it is not permitted.”

Townsend said the matter would be resolved if Zylmans – who formerly chaired the Agricultural Land Commission’s South Coast Panel and the city’s Agricultural Advisory Committee – moved the sign onto private property, “which he has done in the past when requested to do so.”

Zylmans claimed he has never once moved the sign when asked, although he did recall a conversation with the city about five years ago.

Townsend added that the bylaw officer’s visit to Zylmans’ farm was in response to a public complaint regarding the size and location of the sign.

“While the city supports agriculture and our farmers, staff also have to apply city bylaws consistently. For example, the city applies the same restrictions to election signs.”

Zylmans, however, isn’t feeling that love for agriculture from the city right now.

“Agriculture is tough enough without this kind of harassment,” he said.

“I’m pretty disheartened to be honest. I’m ready to pack it all in if this is the city’s attitude to farming. I volunteer a lot of my time to the industry and have done so for the city in the past.

“I got a call from a city manager this morning, claiming they had multiple complaints. It went from none, to one, to multiple. Sure.”

Zylmans said he’s happy to sit down and talk with the city – at the end of the strawberry season in a few weeks.

“Let’s get something specific in the bylaws with regard to farm signs,” he said.

“This is a crucial time for us. Give me two weeks for crying out loud. There is no one as passionate about farming in Richmond as I am.
“But I think they should be paying more attention to illegal dumping of soil on farmland than this.”

Ironically, the city, in 2017, named a rural road in east Richmond after Zylmans’ farming father, Wim, who passed away in 2005, and was considered a pioneer in the local farming industry.