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Councillors voice grave concerns over proposed provincial growth plan policies

by Mike Robinson

ABERFOYLE - Local councillors are worried that new draft provincial growth policies might have the opposite effect in Puslinch.

On Sept. 20, Mark Paoli, Wellington County’s manager of policy planning, updated Puslinch councillors on draft Provincial Growth Plan policies regarding agricultural system, and natural heritage system.

In May, the province released updates to the Growth Plan as it affects the Greater Golden Horsehoe.

Agricultural policies

Paoli said the agricultural aspect looks at prime agricultural lands and rural lands in general.

Similar items exist in the Wellington County Official Plan but would be replaced upon conforming with the provincial policies.

Paoli, who explained the idea is to establish regional prime agricultural designations, said the province’s view of prime agricultural areas differs from the county’s official plan.

Paoli explained proposals on these lands would require additional investigation and review.

“Many of these properties are considered secondary agricultural at present,” he said.

Paoli noted the county is seeking an extension to the policy review period “to address ... significant errors on the mapping - which is intended to show areas of prime agricultural land.”

In Puslinch, Paoli said some of these lands are currently designated as rural employment lands while some recreational properties such as golf courses are also designated.

Regarding mapping of agricultural food networks, Paoli said information appears sparse, and numerous local agriculture-related businesses were excluded.

On the redesignated lands to prime agriculture, most of the lands are currently considered as secondary agricultural land.

Councillor Susan Fielding said “if those lands remain under the prime agriculture designation, it very much changes the overall land use.” Paoli agreed.

Fielding said the designation matters to the landowners and, “If this were to all change to prime agricultural, the impact would be drastic to Puslinch.”

Fielding added many farmers do not feel there is a lot of prime agriculture land within Puslinch.

Councillor John Sepulis said it doesn’t appear the province is recognizing secondary agricultural land at all - “it’s all going to be prime.”

Sepulis also asked when the policies will be implemented. Paoli said the county would have until 2022 for implemention.

CAO Karen Landry said,  “The impact of these changes will be very, very significant. I think we need to take close look at this to ensure the interests of our municipality are protected.”

Councillor Ken Roth added “this is going to be devastating to our township.”

Regarding the soil classification, Roth contended what exists in Puslinch is nowhere near what exists in places such as Middlesex and Perth counties.

Roth suggested more lands in Puslinch should be designated as secondary agriculture.

“We have to do something. The future of our township is at stake,” said Roth, adding  if everything is designated prime agricultural, the township will lose out on rural severances and its employment lands.

He added Puslinch is located on the Highway 401 corridor, where businesses do want to locate.

Councillor Matthew Bulmer said some of the best farmland in the province is already developed.

As such, he understands the province’s desire to elevate some secondary agriculture land to prime agricultural in order to retain production capacity.

Bulmer’s issue is that in Puslinch, some of the secondary lands should be categorized as hazard land, where it is wet and/or swamp.

He too is concerned the “prime” designation is moving to properties where such a designation may not be appropriate.

Mayor Dennis Lever agreed that some areas identified as prime agricultural land “don’t exist because they’ve been dug up and a pond installed.”

Lever reiterated comments made during previous discussions regarding the provincial greenbelt.

“The province is continually pushing transit being a key issue in the future ... and we have the biggest transit corridor in the province running through our township.”

Lever said land should be protected for development on either side of that corridor.

He said even if the province agrees to retain the designation Puslinch put on rural employment land, the township’s options are limited once those lands are used up - if the rest of the township is designated as prime agricultural land.

Lever also noted Puslinch currently does not offer municipal services, so the only growth is through individual lots or severances.

“If lands are designated as prime ag, that would be the end of severances as well,” he said. “It would condemn the township to no growth ...

“One of the biggest industrial sectors of Wellington County would suddenly be neutralized.”

He also agreed parcels of prime agricultural land should be designated as such - regardless of size - unless there is a constraint that prevents that from making sense.

Natural heritage policies

Paoli said the proposed mapping applies to lands outside of settlement areas.

These are new additional designations, Paoli explained. He said linkages to connect core areas are typically 500 metres wide.

In the west GTA the threshold was dropped to 100 hectares to create more designated greenland areas.

Paoli said the problem in Wellington County is there are areas that are sparsely vegetated, while Puslinch has considerable tree cover.

He pointed to Puslinch and Erin, which are partially located in the Greenbelt, noting both have poorer soils, but lots of natural features.

“Those two municipalities combined, have about 40% vegetative cover ... whereas the rest of the county is around 15%.”

Paoli noted the Heritage Lake residential development is one of the areas mapped as being a natural heritage area.

He said there are parts of the rural employment lands which will also be affected by the natural heritage designation.

Paoli contended this will add another level of environmental policy and requirements that currently do not exist.

Fielding said that type of designation is highly restrictive - “I think this is really bad news for Puslinch.”

Sepulis asked if there was a priority of agricultural over natural heritage.

Paoli said both policies would have to be dealt with at the same time for development proposals.

Roth said, “This is really depressing. To me, this just looks like a different way to expand the Greenbelt.”

Lever agreed, “We need to protect certain areas for Puslinch as a whole, and to protect the aquifer ... but the whole township does not have to be designated as a recharge area.”

Lever pointed out there are other activities taking place.

He recommended council support the comments made by the county.

The township is looking for a balanced approach, Lever added.

October 6, 2017


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