Francis Bread seeks new retail bakery space

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The owners of Salt Spring Island’s Francis Bread are looking for a new home for their bakery after deciding not to continue with a rezoning process for their location on Churchill Road. 

Meghan Carr and Peter Hunt began operating their bakery as a home-based business at 125 Churchill Rd. four years ago, on the family’s property in an area which felt very commercial with two of Salt Spring’s largest hotels and the marina nearby. As their bakery grew in popularity, Carr said they realized they were outgrowing their home-based business situation and began working with local government on a way forward. 

They had hoped to rezone their property from residential to commercial, making the bakery as well as two accommodation units on the property legal. With overwhelming community support at a Jan. 19, 2021 Local Trust Committee meeting, trustees allowed the bakery to keep operating without facing bylaw enforcement until their rezoning application was resolved. 

“We’re hearing loud and clear about the value of this business and a community amenity in your midst,” said LTC chair Peter Luckham, who added that he’d never seen as many letters of support for any application previously with close to 500 messages received. 

While the focus for Carr and Hunt has always been on the bread and wanting to provide a staple product to the community, their energy has for the past few years been spent on attempting to get the rezoning through the island’s unique governance system. Working with three governing bodies — the Islands Trust, North Salt Spring Waterworks District and the Capital Regional District — was a challenge Carr said. 

The bar is set quite high, she explained, with various requirements that are challenging to meet without access to unlimited finances.

“So we just had to make a decision as a small business to move on or keep going,” she said. “And it felt too financially and emotionally exhausting to be able to keep doing that.” 

Carr said she hopes to see a solution around the North Salt Spring Waterworks moratorium, as this is the main reason they abandoned their plans to continue the bakery on the current property. The property was serviced by the waterworks district, however, using that water for commercial uses was not allowed so the owners transitioned to bulk water supply for the bakery. But the bulk water solution is at variance with the Islands Trust Policy Statement concerning water as well as portions of the Salt Spring Island Official Community Plan. 

A staff report presented at a Jan. 18 LTC meeting noted that no precedent exists for a rezoning on the basis of bulk water, either within the Islands Trust or provincially, “likely due to the difficulty of ensuring provision of potable water from an approved source in perpetuity for increased intensity of use.” As a result, staff did not recommend proceeding with the application “on the basis of bulk water supply for the commercial uses on the lot.” 

“Unless we make really significant investments, without the guarantee of our zoning even going through, we’re stuck. We can’t go forward,” Carr said. 

In the LTC’s discussion of the rezoning Trustee Laura Patrick noted that while water is a critical consideration for the Islands Trust, “it is not the only value that we can be making our decisions on in a community.” 

The water issue on Salt Spring is one which ties into the broader issues of housing and business operations on the island, issues which Carr and Hunt never wanted to be involved in. 

“I didn’t realize how the community is fractured in some ways. I think we really wanted to be this community space,” Carr said.

When their business was growing in popularity and began being talked about in the media and at the Islands Trust, they began getting some negative feedback. 

“We never wanted to be controversial, we just wanted to make bread. But it felt like people were taking that out of our hands and making it about ‘How should the island be? Who should get to be here?’” she explained. 

“I don’t want to be known for zoning issues, I just want to be known for making delicious bread,” Carr said, who added that running the business is a lot of work even without the rezoning process. “I’m sure if anybody tried to learn how to make sourdough during the pandemic, they know how much work it is.” 

While Carr said disappointment and heartbreak is how it feels currently, she added that they are moving on with a positive attitude to find a space that works for them before the summer. That may prove challenging, as the bakery needs a kitchen and also a place to house the specialized baking equipment and wood-fired oven they use. 

At last Tuesday’s LTC meeting, trustees put the rezoning application into abeyance for six months, allowing Francis Bread time to find a new location. Carr said they appreciate the time they’ve been given to come up with a plan. They’re not leaving the island, she said, and want to continue to be a part of what makes Salt Spring the community and culture it is.

“I see Francis Bread as being part of that culture,” trustee Peter Grove noted in his support of the abeyance. 

Locals can purchase their products at the Salt Spring Mercantile, at The Woodshed, and by ordering at francisbread.com and picking up at the bakery.

“Basically we’ve turned the bakery into a farmstand kind of set up,” Carr said, in order to minimize traffic and business and to keep having a minimal impact.

Owners of the bed and breakfast units on the property, Nicholas Hunt and Celia Duthie, plan to continue to operate, and will be connecting with the waterworks district about their business, which was opened 15 years ago and before the water moratorium came into effect in 2014.

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