One of Richmond’s most respected farmers has been fined $1,000 and forced to take down a sign, which has been up during the strawberry season for 41 years.
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 $1,000 bylaw infraction ticket on Tuesday.
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After several discussions with the city’s bylaw department, a $500 ticket issued last week had been rescinded, but on the premise the farmer take the sign down immediately.
He refused to do so and, on Tuesday, he was handed a fresh $1,000 fine and given 48 hours to take the sign and trailer away.
“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,” said an exasperated Zylmans, who drove the sign away Tuesday.
“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 (for 25 years) before that...at the 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.”
Zylmans initially told a bylaw officer last week that he had no intention of taking the sign down, adding it was “going to stay there until (the) 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 city’s Agricultural Advisory Committee — moved the sign onto private property.
Townsend added that the city had received a public complaint regarding the size and location of the sign.
“City bylaws do not permit signs of that size or placement on city property. While there is a provision for special approval, (the) engineering department has reviewed the size and location of the sign and is not prepared to grant an exception,” said Townsend.
“Staff have successfully worked with Mr. Zylmans on previous occasions to relocate seasonal signage during harvest seasons and we are working with him...
“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.”
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.”