Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dunvegan Disturbance = Community Cost

Recently there has been some controversy regarding Dunvegan Gardens, a local greenhouse and landscaping business. Dunvegan has been a fixture in the city for many years, several of those years primarily in their previous location on Gregoire Drive. A couple of years ago, though, Dunvegan closed the Gregoire store to concentrate their business at their larger location on Draper Road. This move has allowed them to expand their business and offer even more goods and services to the community. I think it has been a positive move in many ways for both the business and the city, but it seems that not everyone agrees.

If you've lived here for any length of time you've probably been to Dunvegan. It's where many residents have been getting their floral hanging baskets, tropical plants, and pre-started vegetables and flowers for years. They also have a large selection of gifts, garden needs, and seeds. At Christmas they sell live trees and ornaments. They work with schools to run fundraising projects for things like class trips.  Dunvegan is also well known for being a strong contributor to the community, donating to local events and charities, and has also been responsible for many of the beautification projects in the city. There is no doubt that this is an important community business, and one that is supported by many city residents.

The current issue is that other residents on Draper Road, and one in particular, have determined that Dunvegan's expansion has created problems in the area. They object to Dunvegan storing top soil on the property, and they object to the amount of traffic the business has created (especially business equipment traffic, which they claim starts very early in the morning). The area is apparently zoned for residential and small holdings, and while Dunvegan's greenhouse constitutes a small holding the other residents feel they are contravening zoning by running a fairly large-scale landscaping business.

I am not without sympathy for the other residents of Draper Road. I imagine the noise level and traffic can be frustrating. I suspect they bought on Draper hoping for a peaceful existence and find that this business intrudes on that life. However, I must say that I think Fort McMurray desperately needs Dunvegan Gardens, and that the business they are running is essential to this city. I also suspect many of those residents complaining have in the past purchased landscaping supplies, garden plants, or other items from Dunvegan and have thus contributed to keeping open a business they are now trying to cripple. And losing the landscaping end of the business would cripple Dunvegan. They might limp along for awhile, but if their profits decline enough they may of course eventually decide to close the business - and then where would we buy our garden things? Would we buy frost-bitten half-dead plants from Canadian Tire? Perhaps drive 4 and 1/2 hours to buy our flowers? Where would all those people moving into brand new homes purchase their landscaping supplies? Would they be paying to truck them in from other towns and cities? These are not enticing prospects. Losing a local business is always a blow, but the loss of Dunvegan Gardens would be enormously detrimental to the city.

I'd like to think that the unhappy residents of Draper and Dunvegan can come to some sort of settlement. Perhaps they can address the early-hours noise issue. Perhaps they can achieve some form of compromise. I fear, though, that sides have become entrenched and that this fight could become nasty. As evidence of the potential for nastiness I cite what occurred at Dunvegan's recent Easter Egg Hunt, which was attended not only by area children but also by bylaw enforcement and the RCMP when someone called to complain. If emotions have become so deep that someone will complain about what can only be described as a very positive community-minded event then I wonder if compromise can ever be found. That is incredibly unfortunate in my opinion as I don't think anyone can argue that the city would be better off without Dunvegan Gardens - even those other residents of Draper Road. I truly hope that both sides can attempt to find a way to address the issues in a way that allows Dunvegan to continue to operate. In the final analysis if compromise cannot be found then the biggest losers aren't going to be the Draper Road residents or Dunvegan Gardens - it will be the community as a whole.

Fort McMurray Today Article

Save Dunvegan Gardens Facebook Page

May 01, 2011

Please note - A reader has commented on this blog post, and I have chosen to respond to those comments here : Dunvegan Disturbance, Revisited


  1. While your comments are well written and your opinion is well thought out, I believe that you have made a mistaken conclusion as you are without the facts. This is not your fault, unless of course you are one of the many employees and relatives of Dunvegan who have entertained the community with its vulgarity, ignorance and general stupidity (as found on the save the Dunvegan site and the MyMcMurray site). The fact is that Dunvegan is conducting a campaign of misinformation.

    The only thing that Dunvegan is trying to avoid, other than the truth on several levels, is commercial or industrial rent for its landscaping business. While Dunvegan moved its greenhouse and market garden a few years ago to Draper, it also brought along its industrial landscaping and processing landscaping dirt business. It is this industrial business which has caused the problem with the real residents of the community.

    Since they moved to Draper, I understand that they set up, without City permission or consultation, a U-Haul business, a mechanic shop, a landscaping business and a processing plant. I also understand that they have tried to amend the small holdings district bylaws (which is intended only for primarily residential, small agricultural pursuits and other compatible uses: look it up in the land use bylaws in the RMWB website) to include an RV sales lots and industrial lay down yard. In Canada, we have these things called zones, such as residential, industrial and commercial.

    Dunvegan's uses mentioned above are land uses that are contrary to the law and which has the community and now the City taking measures to enforce the law. Brad Friesen may not mind the smell when taking a poop in his own back yard, but the community can smell it just fine and it doesn't like it.

    The City has issued at least one stop order against Dunvegan and provided it with numerous warnings about its law breaking. Also, in an appeal by over 40 residents to the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board, Dunvegan was denied a permit to haul 1000's of loads of dirt on to their property for processing and for resale and re-transport through Draper again. Despite being prohibited by law, Dunvegan continues to break it by transporting dirt to and from its land in Draper. Apparently the law doesn't apply to the Brad Friesen and Dunvegan.

    The "save Dunvegan Campaign" is a smoke and mirror stunt and is based on a lie and is a slap in the face to the honest citizens of RMWB who have been tricked into signing a document that is nothing more than a poor attempt to continue to break the law and a method of avoiding the rents that industrial business that comply with the law are required to pay.

    Fortunately, the law cannot be avoided through a misinformed popularity contest. The law will be enforced in every instance, be it against drug dealers, murders or by-law breakers. The municipality I understand is well aware of the facts and is currently taking steps to remove the law breaking component of the business currently being conducted in Draper.

    By the way, the garden is not an issue legally. It is a permitted use in the district and is the only legal thing that Dunvegan has done since is moved to Draper. If it is at risk of losing its greenhouse, it is only because they do not have enough customers to sustain that part of its business. Welcome to the free market economy.

    please proceed to part 2

  2. Part 2

    Are we supposed to subsidize and allow law breaking every time a business is in financial trouble? What kind of message does this send and where does it end? How many of our ancestors left the farm for more profitable pursuits? If you want to save Dunvegan, it can be done. Shop there more often.

    Otherwise, let it go the way of the blacksmith if that is its natural course. Would you save the blacksmith's business by permitting him to sell cocaine on the side?

    I am sure that the landscaping business is doing just fine on its own and can afford to pay commercial rent in properly zoned areas of the RMWB, just like almost everyone else. It has a very nice contract with the City at the moment and it pays its employees’ salaries that are well below market value (yes guys, it’s time to ask for a raise). I understand that they have even brought in Mexican migrant workers who are not in a position to receive anything above minimum wage, which as we know is well below the fair market value in RMWB.

    If you haven't figured it out yet, I live in Draper and after hearing about the police incident, I checked with the various members of the community and concluded that not many noticed and not one minded the event that Dunvegan had at its greenhouse. This was due to the fact that the Dump Trucks were suspiciously absent from view and were not running at the time, even though they usually do so on a Saturday. I understand that Bylaw is running regular patrols of Draper now as their efforts to get Dunvegan to stop breaking the law have not been respected by Dunvegan.

    They would have therefore most likely "arrived" at the egg hunt as part of a regular patrol. As far as the RCMP, they don't do bylaw infractions and the residents know that. Perhaps the Easter egg hunting got out of hand and the authorities had to be called in to break it up.

    In summary, Dunvegan and Brad Friesen owe the community many apologies for adopting an old west mentality of moving into an area and doing whatever they please, whether it’s legal or not. On one level Dunvegan are thieves. They have come to Draper and stolen the peace and quiet other residents purchased when they made the move to a rural setting.

    They also owe a huge apology to the residents who have signed a petition which amounts to a weak effort on their part to ask that they be allowed to break the law. The Market Garden is only at risk if the profits are not there to support the business. The huge profits obtained in the landscaping business can afford to take the rental hit. If not, move over and let the other landscaping businesses which have made a profit continue to do so.

    Personally, I won't be shopping at Dunvegan as I object to the method in which it does business, which is to say, outside the law. I also do not like censorship and that is what the save Dunvegan site did when they blocked members of the public who chose to comment in their site and dared to disagree with their opinions.

    I also object to certain members of the staff of the Fort McMurray today showing preferential treatment to an advertisers at the expense of te truth. Are you a new paper or a flyer?

    You may not like the facts. It may affect your job if Dunvegan chooses to cease its operations. For those of you who will be allowed to remain in Canada, you may find that you will get a new job that pays even more money. Most of us after all didn't come to Fort McMurray to make minimum wage.

    You may also have to drive 4 and 1/2 hours to Edmonton for plants. If so, at least you will have the satisfaction of knowing that in this country, the law applies to everyone, be it a politician, or a rock star, of a greenhouse owner.

    Just the facts

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