Conn residents object to Mennonite development in their community

 It’s not a matter of religion, it’s a matter of a proposed development be­ing seen from local backyards.

Council here has yet to make a decision on a proposal for a parochial school, church, and cemetery in Conn – but it is clear there is a sizable contingent of residents who would rather see it built somewhere else.

The property at the southern edge of the hamlet is currently farmland, and needs to be be rezoned for the proposal. The application is for  a seven acre parcel to be rezoned to in­sti­tutional and related uses.

The May 17 meeting was a second public meeting under the Planning Act; an earlier one was held March 8. At that time, senior planner Mark Van Patter stated, “The proposal conforms to the provincial policy state­ment and county official plan. Urban centres and hamlets are where institutional uses should be located. The property is large enough that the uses can be situated so they will be compatible with the neighbours to the north.”

He did however, recommend a detailed site plan to better understand how the parcel would developed and said a draft zoning bylaw may need to be amended to include setbacks and buffering regulations.

Access to the site would be south of the ball field, from County Road 14.

Van Patter said development is generally directed to urban areas, including hamlet areas, and the county official plan indicates “other uses in­cluding local commercial, small scale industrial, institutional … may also be permitted where compatible and where adequate levels of service can be provided.”

As a result, he has no concerns with the proposal where it is located.

“Given the size of the property and the small scale of the uses proposed, I have no concerns with compatibility in general. The lands to the west are occupied by the ball diamond. To the north, there are four dwellings, which are the most sensitive neighbours. To the south and east, the land is agricultural.”

He also recommended the cemetery be situated as far as possible from the existing dwellings and wells. He considered concerns about the minimum distance separation from agricultural buildings “a bit of a red herring.”

While there are three barns on the west side of County Road 14, to the south – all three barns are already affected by the southwestern corner of the hamlet designation in the official plan.  He explained the corner of the urban area is closer to all of the barns than the subject property, including its entrance.

Raymond and Julia Goetz, of Conn, object to the proposal for a number of reasons.

“We feel that the proposed severance will provide no extra tax dollars to the hamlet of Conn,” they said in a letter.

They suggested different development would provide more tax dollars to the community and wanted to know if there would be special setbacks from existing homes.

Both had concerns that the proposed facilities would not be available for others in the community to use.

A letter from Paul Brophy, Jo-Anne Krusky, and Donna Woods also objected.

“We have nothing against Mennonites or their rights to worship or schooling. We just don’t want this in our back yard, and that’s exactly where it will be. We moved here specifically for the peace and quiet and the view of the field … instead of a field and bush, we will look at a building and parking lot. We work out of town, and commute all week. Most weeks we only have Sunday off – the day in which the proposed church will be most active.”

Concerns were also raised that since the facilities are for those with Mennonite memberships, they asked how this would benefit Conn.

“As far as we know, none of the residents of Conn will use these facilities.”

Supporting the proposal is the Wellington Federation of Agriculture.

Its letter, read by Lisa Hern, stated the organization represents over 1,400 farm families and agribusinesses in Welling­ton County.

“The federation strongly supports this application to rezone these lands … The Mennonite community is a very valuable component of our farming community and our economic development as a whole, and any such development will serve to greatly enhance the Wellington North community,” Hern said.

One thing Van Patter still wants to see is a more detailed site plan.

Treasurer John Jeffrey said the school would be considered a private school and taxed accordingly.

As for setbacks, Van Patter said those details can be ac­commodated considering the size of the parcel of land and the proposed buildings.

Brophy asked why farmland was being used for this purpose.

Van Patter said development is directed to urban areas and hamlets such as Conn. “This proposal directs it to where it is supposed to go.”

He noted that even though right now the land is being farmed, it is still considered part of the urban area of Conn.

He also said that there is no guarantee that any location in an urban area won’t be developed at some point.

“We just didn’t expect it in two years,” Brophy said.

Van Patter agreed this is not the only site considered, but this is the type of location where such development should go.

Council has yet to make a final decision on this.