In Vernon, a couple named Sondra and Lee Watkins faced a significant challenge when the city opposed their decision for full time RV living on Sondra’s parents’ farmland. Despite this land being part of the agricultural land reserve (ALR) within Vernon’s limits, they struggled for 18 months to gain the city’s permission to stay.

Their situation took a turn at a recent city council meeting on November 27. A lengthy 50-minute discussion among council members, the mayor, and staff revolved around amending RV regulations in agricultural zones.

The story began in 2022 when the Watkins, after losing their rental home to a sale, moved into an RV on Sondra’s parent’s property, bringing their large animals with them. They aimed to save for a house while continuing their businesses. However, a neighbor’s complaint led to bylaw enforcement repeatedly instructing them to leave the RV life, citing city bylaws against living in RVs within city limits. The Watkins’ efforts to contest this through petitions and letters resulted in fines totaling $2,700 as it was not uncommon for bylaw officers to visit the property several times per day.

Although the Agricultural Land Commission and Technical Safety officers found their RV living situation compliant with provincial standards, the city’s zoning bylaw remained a barrier. At the council meeting, staff proposed several options, including aligning city zoning bylaws with provincial regulations, creating specific conditions for RV use on agricultural land, outright prohibition, or temporary permits.

In a dramatic turn, the council majority voted in the final minutes to align with provincial ALR regulations, allowing the Watkins to stay legally on the land. This decision lifted a significant weight off the couple, who celebrated their victory with family, relieved from the stress of fines and bylaw disputes.

The question of whether the city will waive their accumulated fines remains unanswered.

This situation highlights the evolving nature of regulations around the use of farmland within the agricultural land reserve. Since its creation in 2019, the framework has been challenging for local governments to adapt to. In 2021, British Columbia introduced legislation to increase housing flexibility on such land, allowing for additional residences without needing commission approval. While the Agricultural Land Commission provides a basic framework, local governments have the discretion to impose further regulations. Vernon’s zoning bylaws had not been updated to reflect these changes, hence the initial prohibition on additional residences in agricultural zones.