Not berry nice: Richmond strawberry farmer forced to put away sign after 41 years

Strawberries are ripening across B.C. but the season started with a sour taste for one Richmond farmer.

Bill Zylmans has advertised his strawberry patch with a makeshift billboard for more than four decades, but this year bylaw officers fined him after he refused to move it off public property.

Jon Hernandez/CBC

For every strawberry season since 1978 Zylmans has parked the sign, which is fastened to an old potato trailer, at the corner of Knight Street and Westminster Highway to help point the way to his patch, which is further east on Westminster Highway

"It was in a perfect location as far as I was concerned, being there for 40 years, it was a directional sign," he said. "It was an industry sign that told you strawberries were in season."

The city says for many years it has worked with Zylmans to ensure the sign was in an appropriate space. This year though, there were numerous complaints about the sign, which was parked up against crash barriers and obstructing them.

'In violation'

Last week, city bylaw officers ordered Zylmans to move the sign again, and when he didn't, he was issued a $1,000 fine. Officials say the sign was a safety hazard.

"It's in violation of the city bylaw, that's quite clear," said Ted Townsend, who speaks for the City of Richmond. "There are opportunities for farmers to put up seasonal signs to advertise produce, but this was well outside the bounds of what is permitted under the sign bylaw."

Zylmans eventually towed the sign to his property and is now storing it behind a barn, but he's still upset about being forced to move it.

"I couldn't believe that they were coming down on me to make me move it, without any foresight or any discussion," he said.

Jon Hernandez/CBC

The flap over the sign has caught the attention of several people in the community, including Zylmans' customers.

"I'm really sad to see that the city is harassing them for putting up a sign," said Cindy Cashin. "I think the city should encourage farmers because that's the basis of Richmond. It's a farming community."

The city says it wants to support its farmers and plans to review its sign bylaws around advertising for seasonal produce.