Berry bitter battle: Richmond farmer spars with city in signage dispute

A battle is brewing between the City of Richmond and one of its best-known farmers—and it all revolves around a single sign.

Bill Zylmans’ longstanding family farm, W & A Farms, has used signage to advertise its strawberries in the same location every season—at the busy intersection of Westminster Highway and Knight Street—for more than 40 years.

But that all changed this year.

“I’ve had this same location, I put the first sign on that site in 1978—for each strawberry season,” Zylmans said. “This year they decided, that’s it.”

Zylmans has been slapped with two bylaw infraction tickets in the past week.

The first ticket, for $500, was initially rescinded on the condition that Zylmans remove the three-metre wide sign. He didn’t. One week later, on Tuesday, bylaw officers handed him another ticket for $1,000.

The city says it’s largely a safety issue—revolving around the size and the placement of the sign: on public property, in a busy intersection.

“The location there, it’s right by some crash barriers that are there for safety reasons. And we can’t have those compromised,” said Ted Townsend, spokesperson for the City of Richmond.

Liberal MLA Jas Johal, who represents the Richmond-Queensborough riding where W & A Farms is located, calls the crackdown on signage a misuse of city resources.

“There’s a better use of taxpayer dollars, in terms of going after infractions,” Johal said. “I don’t think going after strawberry farmers [is] what Richmond residents want to see.”

Zylmans is adamant the sign in question doesn’t pose a danger or a distraction to commuters.

“It’s a clean, neat, out of the way—out of any infractions of traffic—signage,” he said. “Roads, pedestrians, cyclists. There’s absolutely nothing that it hinders at this point.”

But, late Tuesday, Zylmans decided to take the sign down anyway, and transport it back to his farm, three kilometres down the road, in the hopes of avoiding paying the fine.

The city says it will be reassessing the bylaw, and how it is enforced, in the coming months—after a motion to do so was passed at a city council meeting on Monday evening.

Zylmans, for his part, says he would like to discuss the bylaw with city council once strawberry season is over.

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