Fruitvale: Family, village at odds over structure

The Caputo family was fined $100 for a front yard structure, to them it's a trellis to the village it's an accessory build.

The Caputos are using their garden as a teaching tool for their kids and showing them firsthand how growing your own food supports sustainability. Mya Caputo (left front) and Nate Caputo (right front) with their friend Brooklyn Bouchier.

The Caputos are using their garden as a teaching tool for their kids and showing them firsthand how growing your own food supports sustainability. Mya Caputo (left front) and Nate Caputo (right front) with their friend Brooklyn Bouchier.

To the Caputo family it’s a tomato trellis that is only temporary. The Village of Fruitvale sees the wooden frame as the remains of a garden structure, therefore an accessory structure, and that is not allowed in a front yard, period.

But no matter how you say tomato, the village wants the structure down pronto and the Caputos want it up to keep their garden growing.

Either way, the former little greenhouse on Columbia Gardens Road is costing time and money on both sides how much will be determined by the current adjudication process and whether or not council chooses to take the matter even further, to civil litigation.

And for Mike and Marlo Caputo, what began as a healthy lifestyle choice and growing lessons for their children, wound up causing nothing but stress and thoughts of packing it all in and moving.

“We believe in organic growing and we want to teach our kids where our food comes from,” says Mike. “It doesn’t come from a supermarket, it comes from hard work, being outside, and having an appreciation for that.”

Their former home on Pine Avenue was shrouded in large trees and didn’t provide the sunlight needed for a flourishing garden so ample sunshine was a key factor in choosing a new address.

First came the decision to stay in the village, both agreed that Fruitvale’s community plan of sustainability and living green was a good fit. And the rundown house they settled on could be re-configured for a peaceful rural lifestyle it’s in walking distance from the elementary school, family lives nearby, the neighbours are great and most importantly, the front yard is perfect for gardening, it’s in the sun most of the day.

After building up raised beds on their corner lot this spring, the couple say they reviewed village bylaws before investing materials and time into building a front yard greenhouse which they liken to a temporary vehicle shelter.

“It follows the setback for a temporary car shelter,” said Mike. “So it went up in May and a week later we got a notice saying it had to come down, it was impeding sight lines.”

After removing the plastic, he left the wooden frame up to act as a trellis for dozens of tomato plants, a staple ingredient for Mike’s spaghetti sauce the family eats throughout the year.

But that wasn’t enough the couple has since received a $100 ticket for not dismantling the entire structure.

“Our concern is that there are numerous properties in the Village of Fruitvale that are in contravention of this particular bylaw,” says Marlo. “We have spoken to a few of the home owners and none of them have received a letter, never mind being fined.

“We feel that if a bylaw is not being enforced equally and fairly, then it is not enforceable.”

Lila Cresswell, Fruitvale’s chief administrative officer says the issue has not yet gone to adjudication, “as no evidence has yet been provided by the property owner in support of their position to be considered by the adjudicator.”

“In addition, the property owners have requested the Adjudicator hear them in person instead of by telephone or letter so travel from Vancouver or Kelowna for the assigned Adjudicator is required, which of course causes additional delay and expense.”

The village did request a number (53) of temporary vehicle structures to be removed from front yards in May and all property owners complied, Cresswell added.

“It has been noted that it seems unfair when others are required to comply with bylaws if someone else refuses to do so without consequences.”

In the meantime, the Caputos have started a petition asking council to permit a temporary greenhouse from March 15 to October 15 in the front yard of any residential property to accommodate the growing season and support sustainability.

The petition has been well received, garnering over 20 signatures in less than 24 hours.

“Gardening and teaching our kids about gardening is what we love to do,” said Marlo. “And there’s so many municipalities getting on board and supporting growing food it’s the long term, how that impacts globally when you grow you food locally, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and so many other benefits,” she concluded. “I would think they would want to really promote that and how much more visible can you get than us being on this corner?

“It’s in their community plan to promote sustainability, small scale farming but what measures are they actually taking to support that?”