Council approves loss of farmland to make way for county public works building

Nine acres of agricultural land in Wellington North being rezoned to rural industrial

WELLINGTON NORTH – Nine acres of agricultural land is disappearing from Wellington North following council’s approval to rezone land from agricultural to rural industrial.

In a public meeting on May 9, Steve Wever of GSP Group, retained by the township, presented to council on a rezoning application from Wellington County for a southwest portion of G and L White Farms Ltd., located at 7970 Wellington Road 12 to allow for the building of a county public works garage and potentially, a future ambulance bay.

A basic site plan has been provided with a more detailed site plan to come, subject to township approval.

The plan shows phased development with the first of two phases including a 3,184-square-foot building consisting of a single storey service bay area (seven total bays), a single storey sand/salt storage area, a drive-through loading area, and a double storey office space.

A cold storage building is also shown in the south-west corner of the property, and fuel tanks are shown near the property, states a report from GSP Group.

The second phase would include a potential future ambulance garage and stormwater management pond.

Continuing, the report to council states first phase work would involve a driveway fronting Wellington Road 12, a 36 -space parking area, and on-site private well and septic systems – the locations of which are not indicated.

“The area is generally characterized by agricultural uses for the most part, with the exception of the composting facility on the west side and a few dwellings to the north and south,” Wever told council.

The range of land uses in the surrounding area are predominantly limited to farming, but Wever said exceptions can be made for public works buildings when alternatives cannot be found.

“It is noted that the submitted application does not include a review of potential alternative locations within the Arthur settlement area which has vacant lands designated for industrial use and zoned industrial (M1) where a public works yards is permitted, and where full municipal services are provided or planned,” states the report.

Wever said the county wants additional facilities in the northern reaches considering forecasted growth there.

“It’s also, I think, a benefit to be located along a county road and some efficiency there,” Wever said.

An archaeological assessment, currently underway, and a holding provision are recommended to be applied which would need to be lifted through a subsequent application before rezoning is finally granted.

“From our review … we do think that it’s consistent generally with the applicable planning policies,” Wever told council.

The Wellington Federation of Agriculture submitted a comment stating the organization cannot abide by a loss of farmland and thus opposed the rezoning request, suggesting the county garage should be located on non-agricultural land.

Councillors Steve McCabe, Lisa Hern and Sherry Burke backed the WFA’s sentiment.

“I know this is something that county staff never usually approves,” McCabe said. “I’m pretty sure there’s better alternatives.”

“The unique aspect of this request is that the county, in adopting its official plan, had pre-anticipated that there would need to be this flexibility for their facilities to be located throughout anywhere in the prime ag area,” Wever explained. “Basically, in adopting their official plan, [the county] had set a framework for allowing this without that same kind of rigorous review of alternatives.”

Wever reminded council it was ultimately their decision to grant rezoning and the county could be asked to present more justification for the chosen location.

Hern said she couldn’t find “any real justification” within the report for taking agricultural land out of commission.

“It kind of feels like sometimes ag land is just the low hanging fruit, and the environment and the food supply can be shoved to the side for convenience,” Hern said.

CAO Mike Givens confirmed alternative locations within the urban boundary were in fact discussed between him and county staff, but nothing formal was presented.

“It wasn’t just a single site conversation, they have looked at other sites, and there are reasons that maybe didn’t come through in the reports,” Givens said.

Mayor Andy Lennox said this type of application gives him indigestion.

“I dislike anything that consumes agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, but this type of facility is not that easy to locate where it doesn’t interfere with other people.”

Lennox also reinforced the location could be home to a future ambulance base, providing access to key arterial roads.

“I guess I just have to take some water with my wine, so to speak, and swallow hard, and put up with the fact that agricultural land is being used,” Lennox said.

When it came time for council’s vote on the proposed zoning bylaw amendment, councillors acquiesced and approved the zoning change with McCabe and Hern in opposition.

Should council have refused to grant the rezoning, the county could have been asked to propose a new location, supply additional information to justify the chosen location, or appeal the township’s decision to the Ontario Land Tribunal.

Pertinent documents from the public meeting agenda are included below.

May9Public Meeting Agenda-pages-5-42-compressed