The Municipality vs. Dunvegan Gardens

One Opinion

By Frances Jean, Connect Contributor

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Impossible to understand, and I doubt whether the victim or the persecutor understands either. I’m talking about the on-going saga between the Municipality and Dunvegan Gardens.

Fort McMurray residents know Dunvegan as the place where they buy their bedding plants and their vegetables. A place their children love to go to play in the summer, to hunt for Easter eggs, to get lost in the corn maze, and to enjoy the magic of Christmas. A place like no other in our city.

After the Friesen family bought the Gregoire greenhouse they moved the operation to Draper in 2008 to property formerly known as Gray’s Gardens. The same year they applied for and were approved for a market garden accessory building that housed their giftware and plant supplies. Several times since the municipality has issued stop work permits for one reason or another.

Over the years the city has stipulated a variety of requirements. For instance, they were told they had to have an office in town; they had to move their landscaping equipment to Prairie Creek Industrial complex. Both complied with.

In 2015 two tickets were issued that they were in breach of the SDBA and had no valid business license. In court the judge threw out both charges.

Just this year the company applied for a permit to operate a park; something we have few enough of in this city. They were turned down.

On Sept. 22nd of this year they renewed their business license that specified greenhouse, gardens and retail. Two days later they were issued a stop work permit and told they could no longer sell giftware, could not keep their animals or operate a park. An appeal to this ruling goes to the SDBA on January 19th, 2017 (subject to change.) Check Dunvegan Facebook page for more information.

The Friesens, like all small businesses, have paid their business license each year; have in the past few years paid $20,000 yearly in taxes with no services. In fact from 2005 to 2011 Garden Lane was maintained by Dunvegan, saving the municipality upward of $125,000 a year.

If the company is not operating within municipal guidelines why has the city given them contracts each year? If the zoning is not correct why has this not been remedied? Why were licenses renewed each year and subsequent stop work permits issued? The constant turnover in the planning and licensing department probably contributes to the confusion and downright contradictions.

All taxpayers must be treated equally and fairly. While it is impossible for this writer to untangle the 900 pages of municipal complaints it is surely time for some common sense to prevail. Either business licenses are valid or they should not have been issued over the years.

On top of all of this the Dunvegan business has been a good corporate citizen to our community. They have donated flowers and landscaping to Heritage Park and the hospital, and donated to many in town charities. The Farm has been a place of enjoyment for countless families, estimated at five to six hundred a day during the summer, with 5000 at events. And where else can children see real chickens and rabbits, or explore the well kept gardens?

It is time for this horrendous situation to come to a conclusion. The community needs Dunvegan Gardens for all it offers. It is time for the mayor and council along with administration to work with Dunvegan to solve the issues and create the proper paper work and/or zoning and stop the frivolous bylaw tickets. This year Dunvegan Gardens was recognized by the business community as a top business of the year. There is no doubt the people of Fort McMurray value the Dunvegan Farm. Why can’t our city council solve this long standing problem?

Impossible to understand, and I doubt whether the victim or the persecutor understands either. I’m talking about the on-going saga between the Municipality and Dunvegan Gardens.

Fort McMurray residents know Dunvegan as the place where they buy their bedding plants and their vegetables. A place their children love to go to play in the summer, to hunt for Easter eggs, to get lost in the corn maze, and to enjoy the magic of Christmas. A place like no other in our city.

After the Friesen family bought the Gregoire greenhouse they moved the operation to Draper in 2008 to property formerly known as Gray’s Gardens. The same year they applied for and were approved for a market garden accessory building that housed their giftware and plant supplies. Several times since the municipality has issued stop work permits for one reason or another.

Over the years the city has stipulated a variety of requirements. For instance, they were told they had to have an office in town; they had to move their landscaping equipment to Prairie Creek Industrial complex. Both complied with.

In 2015 two tickets were issued that they were in breach of the SDBA and had no valid business license. In court the judge threw out both charges.

Just this year the company applied for a permit to operate a park; something we have few enough of in this city. They were turned down.

On Sept. 22nd of this year they renewed their business license that specified greenhouse, gardens and retail. Two days later they were issued a stop work permit and told they could no longer sell giftware, could not keep their animals or operate a park. An appeal to this ruling goes to the SDBA on January 19th, 2017 (subject to change.) Check Dunvegan Facebook page for more information.

The Friesens, like all small businesses, have paid their business license each year; have in the past few years paid $20,000 yearly in taxes with no services. In fact from 2005 to 2011 Garden Lane was maintained by Dunvegan, saving the municipality upward of $125,000 a year.

If the company is not operating within municipal guidelines why has the city given them contracts each year? If the zoning is not correct why has this not been remedied? Why were licenses renewed each year and subsequent stop work permits issued? The constant turnover in the planning and licensing department probably contributes to the confusion and downright contradictions.

All taxpayers must be treated equally and fairly. While it is impossible for this writer to untangle the 900 pages of municipal complaints it is surely time for some common sense to prevail. Either business licenses are valid or they should not have been issued over the years.

On top of all of this the Dunvegan business has been a good corporate citizen to our community. They have donated flowers and landscaping to Heritage Park and the hospital, and donated to many in town charities. The Farm has been a place of enjoyment for countless families, estimated at five to six hundred a day during the summer, with 5000 at events. And where else can children see real chickens and rabbits, or explore the well kept gardens?

It is time for this horrendous situation to come to a conclusion. The community needs Dunvegan Gardens for all it offers. It is time for the mayor and council along with administration to work with Dunvegan to solve the issues and create the proper paper work and/or zoning and stop the frivolous bylaw tickets. This year Dunvegan Gardens was recognized by the business community as a top business of the year. There is no doubt the people of Fort McMurray value the Dunvegan Farm. Why can’t our city council solve this long standing problem?

‘One Opinion’ is a Connect Weekly exclusive op-ed article by Fort McMurray matriarch and local author Frances Jean.