News

Maple Ridge sues former mayor over golf course

Gordy and Mary Robson with their flock of sheep and llama on Thursday at the Heather Hills Golf Course. The District of Maple Ridge wants them to shut down the course because it does not comply with current zoning. - Colleen Flanagan/The News
Gordy and Mary Robson with their flock of sheep and llama on Thursday at the Heather Hills Golf Course. The District of Maple Ridge wants them to shut down the course because it does not comply with current zoning.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

The District of Maple Ridge is suing a former mayor for operating a golf course on property in violation of current zoning.

The civil suit, filed Monday, alleges Gordon and Mary Robson are in contravention of a district bylaw and must permanently cease operating of the Heather Hills Golf Course.

It seeks the removal of all golf-course related infrastructure including the club house, tents, golf carts as well as food and beverage services.

“We think the golf course is out of step with the zoning and we will bring compliance to it one way or the other,” said Reece Harding, the district’s solicitor, with the law firm Young Anderson.

“It’s a non-permitted use, from the district’s perspective. Golf courses are not allowed in this zone.”

Located in Webster’s Corner, on 117th Avenue, the property lies within the provincially protected Agricultural Land Reserve and is currently zoned one family residential under the district’s bylaw.

Anderson said the district tried to get the Robsons to stop operating the golf course voluntarily by sending them a letter in February.

The legal action is being pursued because the Robsons’ did not comply.

“It’s gone unresolved,” he added.

“But we are always open to talking.”

The golf course is operated seasonally, from spring through the end of summer, as part of the non-profit Heather Hills Farm Society.

In 2011, the Robsons hosted a summer barbecue for Premier Christy Clark on the golf course, one of many public gatherings the district believes are not permitted under its zoning bylaw.

The Robson family invested in the property in the original property in the 1950s and planted several acres of Scottish Heather, that is still grown on the property.

Over the years, neighbouring properties were purchased and a large hazelnut grove was added.

Poor soil conditions, pest and disease eventually wiped out much of the orchard.

After the loss, the Robson wanted to maintain the “uniqueness of the property” so decided to turn a portion of it into a golf course to “sustain” their non-profit society.

Construction of the golf course began in 2004. It currently has about 30 members.

“This is better than all the fallow farmland you see around,” said Robson.

Today, the Robsons raise 27 sheep on the property and are testing a genetically modified species of blight-resistant hazelnuts they hope to eventually plant around the property. The wool from the sheep goes to local weavers and they are eventually sold for meat.

Charities and church groups often use the golf course for fundraisers, with Robson estimating they’ve raised more than $100,000 since Heather Hills opened.

They also use the land to promote farming, while using revenue generated from the golf course to support the non-profit society’s work with youth advocacy, sports and community groups.

The “club house” the district wants him to remove is a removable tent structure, while the “food and beverage service” consists of a small bar fridge with pop and water and an assortment of packaged nuts.

Robson was surprised by the law suit. The property is classified as “farm class” by B.C.’s property assessment authority, which permits agri-tourism. He has a business license from the district for agri-tourism and got a legal opinion in 2011 to make sure that a golf course met the requirements of the Agricultural Land Commission Act. The land commission considers the golf course a non-farm use.

“I don’t know why they are coming after me,” said Robson. “It might be political.”

Robson has yet to file a statement of defence, but has hired municipal litigator and civic law expert Johnathan Baker as his lawyer.

Robson was the mayor of Maple Ridge for one term, but was defeated in 2008 by the district’s current mayor, Ernie Daykin.

It’s not the first time he’s tussled with the district in court.

Robson sued the district over a P-3 downtown redevelopment project that eventually led to the project being declared illegal.

 

Editor's Note: A previous version of the story stated the Robsons invested in the golf course property in the mid-1970s, that information was obtained from the Heather Hills website. The Robsons have since clarified that the property was purchased in the 1950 and construction of the course started in 2005, not 2005. The information posted on their website was incorrect and has since been changed.

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