Concerns raised over proposed auction house on farm property

Concerns are being lodged by local residents over a propose auction house and storage facility along County Road 14.

At a public meeting on March 2, council discussed the application by owner Marco Feletto. The property is about 176.35 acres and is currently has a vacant residence, shop, and barn. The owner wants the property rezoned to allow an auc­tion establishment and re­lated storage of livestock, farm equipment, lawn and garden equipment, and household items, plus winter storage of recreational vehicles.

The current agricultural and residential uses are to continue.

Planner Linda Redmond said there have been a number of businesses on the property dating back to 1985.

From then to 1995 it was used as a wrecking yard, autobody shop, and for automotive sales. From 1995 to 2007 it had autobody shops, automotive sales, an antique shop, and monthly auctions.

A new tenant continued auctions and farm machinery sales. Five auctions were held, but discontinued because of a complaint to the municipality. The tenant was asked to get the proper zoning before auctions would be allowed to continue.

In research of zoning of the property, Redmond looked at records dating to 1968. In all former bylaws, she said the land was zoned agricultural. The only way to work around that would be to see if that use was in place prior to 1968 to determine if the use is legal nonconforming – if it was in place prior to the current zoning coming into place.

“In my opinion an auction house would be more compatible than a wrecking yard, she said.

But, there is no proof the land has legal non-conforming status. In the official plan it is also designated as prime agricultural. Some secondary uses are allowed if they are related to a farm operation. Those include home occupations that add value to the farm operations. They are intended to be secondary, small scale commercial and industrial opera­tions and re­quired to be in close proximity to the farm.

Redmond said they must be secondary to the main use. The main use is agriculture. She said 156 acres are farmed and the cluster area is 4.3 acres.

She said it would be secondary. The other issue is that it should be small in scale and directly related to the farm operation. “That’s where I’m kind of having a problem with this.”

While the agricultural portion of the auction proposal is farm related, the intent is to auction other items as well.

She there needs to be determination of how much of the operation will be agriculturally related, and where parking will be established.

John Cox

John Cox, of JL Cox Planning Consultants Inc., stated the owner did not feel there was a claim of legal nonconforming status. He said there was definitely commercial op­era­tions on the site since 1985.

He said the plan is the use would be relatively low in  intensity and the auctions would be monthly – not four or five days a week or every weekend. On that basis, Cox did not anticipate an employee base, though additional help might be required during the actual auctions.

“We’re not anticipating this becoming a retail operation.”

The intent is to operate out of existing buildings.

Cox said parking is intended to be on site. He understood one of the original concerns when the most recent operation started involved parking along the sides of the road.

“It’s my opinion that the bulk of what is being proposed would fall under the agricultural use.”

Dave Belton

Resident Dave Belton owns the farm directly south on County Road 14.

In his letter to council he wrote, “My family and I have resided here for the the past 18 years, and have been residents of Wellington County for the past 25 years, as we formerly owned a property in West Garafraxa.

“I object to and disagree with the proposed amend­ments, and believe they should remain the same. The auction establishment and re­lated storage business should not be allowed.”

Belton contends it is a commercial operation and should be located in an urban area.

“In the Master Plan for Wellington County, this property is zoned prime agriculture, with specific uses for the land. This absentee owner appears to be trying to circumvent these directions, for personal gain. This is against the spirit of the zoning bylaw, to allow agricultural businesses to supplement farm income for farmers.”

He added that “This business operated for a short period of time before being shut down by the township, and the intrusiveness caused by the security lighting, and loudspeaker system was undeniably commercial in nature – not unlike a car dealership, and in no way an agricultural endeavour.”

Belton believes the auction and storage related business is not conducive to prime agricultural land.

The difference, he said, is this land is rented to a cash cropper. The house is vacant.

He noted the previous businesses on site, “but this seems to be stepping up the game.”

Belton said of being involved in farming, and having seen the operation of the Ontario Stockyards and the investment required to conduct livestock auctions, “It’s a specialized use … and you won’t be able to do it on 4.3 acres [including the parking].”

He believes the same size limitation would hold true for farm equipment.

He understood the most recent operation ran for a short time before being shut down by the township.

He believes if the proponent is going through this stage to get a rezoning, it will end up as a commercial use.

Belton added there have been numerous nearby positive developments.

Across County Road 14, he cited a property purchased by Hybrid Turkeys where considerable investment has been made. Directly to the south of his property, he noted an individual has put a lot of time and effort into a developing fish farming operation.

“Those are the types of development we want to see in the area.”

Jaime Howlett

Jaime Howlett, lives across the road from the property in question.

She said her main concern is parking. She said the en­trance and her driveway are on a hillside “and it’s a pretty nasty little spot to get out of.”

Howlett said she has had to pull her kids off the road for cars that couldn’t stop in time for the school bus.

“When cars are parked along that road either way,” it makes the situation worse.

“On County Road 14, 80 km/hour is just a vague suggestion.”

By the time it takes to creep out of the driveway, her vehicle might be struck by an oncoming car.

Howlett has three children, one of which is in Kinder­garten.

She said the auctions were on Friday afternoons, about the same time the kids were getting off the bus. She estimated that in a 12-year period there were three auctions held on the site.

She said if the business was going to be run by the person who owned and farmed the property, she wouldn’t have as much of an issue. As for the idea of the livestock auctions, Howlett had similar concerns.

While horses are boarded on the property, there is no one living in the house on site. More than once, they had to move horses off the road and put them back in the barn.

“I’m not sure how they will hold livestock auctions if they can’t keep two horses in off the road.”

She believes much more planning is needed. But, if the proposal goes through she wants parking addressed.

Council review

Mayor Mike Broomhead said there were no motions before council that night.

He told those attending, council would provide a general consensus.

Councillor Ross Chaulk asked what the connection was if the commercial operation was not for the farmer of the property – or how it qualified as small scale income. He said the property itself is being used as a commercial endeavour.

Councillor Bob Mason agreed with Chaulk. He asked what the plans are for the vacant home.

Feletto said that if a the proposal was approved, he might be able to get someone in there.

Councillor Dan Yake said the concerns voiced by the opponents indicates there are a number of questions that need to be addressed.

Broomhead said from past experience, storage businesses have been discouraged on farm properties. He agreed that quite a few questions need to be addressed.

He discussed the idea of temporary use bylaw … such as was done with the running the bulls in the township.

With potentially large volumes of traffic, he does not believe the existing entrance to the property will be adequate.

He also had concerns the proposal might end up having parking on prime agricultural land. “If we’re using prime agricultural land to park vehicles [even once a month] it will damage the land. At the end of the day we have to be fair to everyone," Broomhead said.