|Today's date: Wednesday May 22, 2013||Vol 46 Issue 20|
We Cover The County...
Mapleton councillors unaware new zoning bylaw affected MDS on small lots
by Patrick Raftis
Mapleton council has called a special meeting on Oct. 5 as a result of concerns about an MDS exemption in the township’s new comprehensive zoning bylaw.
Local residents Alwyn and Lori Woodham attended the Sept. 25 council meeting to raise concerns about a section of the bylaw that waives Minimum Distance Separation (MDS) requirements for lots that are less than 9.9 acres. MDS requirements are dictated by provincial legislation.
Mapleton passed the revised comprehensive zoning bylaw in 2010, however it did not come into effect until June 2012, due to an OMB appeal of the bylaw on an unrelated matter.
Council passed a motion waiving its procedural bylaw to allow the Woodhams to address council, even though they were not on the agenda as a delegation.
The couple, who run a cash crop operation in the Moorefield area, asked each council member, as well as CAO Patty Sinnamon, if they were aware MDS requirements were being changed when passing the zoning bylaw.
Mayor Bruce Whale pointed out that councillors Andy Knetsch and Neil Driscoll were not on council at the time the zoning bylaw was passed.
“I don’t recall this being brought to our attention about MDS being changed on residential lots,” said Whale.
“I didn’t pick it out as being an exemption that was being added and I don’t recall it being brought to our attention by our planner.”
“This is a bit of a tough one,” said councillor Mike Downey. “I think the Woodhams are deserving of an apology that this even has to be brought up. The matter was dealt with and put into the history books.”
Downey said he has spoken to members of Wellington County’s planning department about the issue and he’s hoping it’s a matter of a “cut and paste error.”
“Copy and paste errors do happen,” said Downey, noting there is a copy of a Mapleton bylaw on the township’s website that contains a reference to Centre Wellington instead of Mapleton. “However that doesn’t minimize the problem here,” Downey stated.
Councillor Jim Currry said he was definitely not aware of the change in MDS regulations.
“At no time do I recall the change being made. I was completely taken by surprise,” said Curry.
Knetch asked if any attempt was made to have the county planner at the meeting.
Whale said the planner was not available for the Sept. 25 meeting, but council could set up a meeting involving the planner and possibly the township’s solicitor.
Driscoll said while not a member of council, he sat in on discussions surrounding the zoning bylaw as a member of the audience and told the Woodhams, “I can feel your pain.”
Driscoll said council needs to take immediate action.
“There are people putting real money down. There are building permits being applied for on the properties we are talking about. Next meeting might be too late,” said Driscoll.
In an interview after the meeting, Sinnamon said no building permits have yet been filed that are affected by the change to the comprehensive zoning bylaw.
During the meeting, in response to the Woodham’s question, Sinnamon indicated there was no specific discussion of MDS during deliberations on the comprehensive zoning bylaw.
“We didn’t discuss MDS specifically,” she said.
“Agriculture is still our primary industry in Mapleton and we try to do what we can to protect that industry and their rights,” said Whale. “If this one slipped through the cracks somehow we have to apologize for that and see what can be done to correct it.”
Downey pointed out, “this bylaw is in contradiction to a number of different laws and acts,” and wondered, “When does our bylaw get superseded by provincial law?”
Alwyn Woodham told council, “if this process is wrong, then events proceeding this or following it are wrong as well,” and suggested council shouldn’t approve any building permits “until the issue is settled. “We want it stopped now,” said Woodham.
Whale said council would have to discuss the issue in closed session and future meetings involving the planning department and the town’s legal counsel might be needed to sort the issue out.
“When you’re sitting here as a council and when you’re passing a bylaw that you didn’t know (anything) about, it doesn’t sit well with me and I’m sure it doesn’t sit well with you, or some of the members of the community. I’m just concerned that it slipped through,” said Woodham.
“We were probably concentrating on issues that were highlighted as changes,” offered Whale.
Lori Woodham told the Advertiser several small lots, created in the 1970s, exist near the couple’s farm. Because the lots are within MDS radius, “everyone has known for the last 10 years that those are dead lots.” However, the Woodhams believe the change to the comprehensive zoning bylaw would allow the lots to be built on, effectively restricting future expansion on their farm.
An in-camera session was held following the Sept. 25 regular meeting to discuss matters pertaining to “litigation or potential litigation.” On Sept. 26 a notice of the special council meeting at 9am on Oct. 5. was posted on the township’s website. The stated purposes of the meeting, which will be held in closed session are:
- education and training – Minimum Distance Separation;
- receiving of advice subject to solicitor-client privilege.
Linda Redmond of the Wellington County Planning Department told the Advertiser the exemption for existing lots is not unusual and, in fact, is included in the comprehensive zoning bylaws of five of the county’s seven municipalities. Redmond said it was created to account for the fact that most municipalities have vacant lots that were created, but never built on, in the days when severance of “retirement lots” off family farms was common.
“There’s quite a few of them still in the townships,” she said.
Redmond said municipalities have the authority to grant exemptions for existing lots within provincial policy.
“The idea is, they went through the exercise (of creating the lots) so why aren’t we allowing them to build on them.”
Even under Mapleton’s previous comprehensive zoning bylaw, Redmond said lot owners could still apply to build on the lots through the minor variance procedure, which would also provide an opportunity for input from the public and surrounding landowners.
Redmond said the exemption was included in the Mapleton bylaw at the initiative of county planners.
“We decided as planners, that it was an appropriate exemption.”
Redmond agreed allowing a residence to be built on one of the existing lots could restrict the ability of neighbouring farmers to expand, depending on a variety of factors that go into MDS calculations on a case by case basis. She noted that MDS distances depend on such factors as the size of an addition or new farm building and the type of livestock to be housed in the building.
“Hogs need a bigger setback than cows, for example.”
“It would depend on what the calculations say.”
The Mapleton bylaw was developed over a period of about two years and included many changes, said Redmond.
“At the end of the day there were number of changes and we did go through the bylaw in detail,” she stated.
Redmond noted the MDS exemption for existing lots “is certainly not carved in stone,” and can be removed if council desires.
“It’s their bylaw,” she explained.
October 5, 2012
The Wellington Advertiser
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