Erin council considering a more present agritourism identity

ERIN – In order to support local innovation in the agricultural sector, council here is looking at amending a bylaw that would allow for a more present agritourism identity in the town.

In doing so, the Town of Erin’s agricultural zoning would be consistent with current provincial policies and provide a better understanding of the town’s zoning requirements for agricultural uses.

“I think the timing is probably right now. I think there’s a feeling in the community, certainly within the agricultural community, to look at this and I’d like to see us proceed,” Mayor Allan Alls said of the proposal.

In a July 20 meeting, council heard from town planning consultant Angela Scibberas on the feasibility of amending the town’s current zoning bylaw to permit and manage agricultural uses.

This would reduce the need for site-specific zoning amendments, which is the town’s current practice.

Council received the report on opportunities for agritourism, directing staff to prepare a recommendation report and a draft zoning amendment that would:

  • update the definitions to conform with the provincial definitions in relation to agricultural uses; and,
  • add performance standards to regulate the defined agritourism uses.

Amending the zoning bylaw requires public notice of the proposed amendment. The recommendation also includes a public meeting to discuss the idea of intensified agritourism in the town.

“With recent travel restrictions due to COVID-19, international travel has slowed down considerably and there has been an increased demand for residents to travel locally,” states the report presented to council.

“Opportunities to accommodate this increased demand have been hampered within the town, as current zoning does not permit tourist overnight stays on agricultural-zoned lands with the exception of B&Bs.”

Council directed staff in April to report on the feasibility of amending the town’s zoning bylaw to include various forms of agricultural tourism, including overnight accommodations in temporary structures or “bunkie”-style housing on farms.

Agritourism uses would also include cideries, culinary schools, educational tours, farm-to-fork restaurants and overnight stays in structures such as platform tents or yurts, according to the report.

The current zoning bylaw generally doesn’t address agritourism and is silent on overnight stays, Scibberas noted. As a result, development proposals in the town are dealt with on a site-specific basis, which typically leads to the need for a zoning amendment.

The Province of Ontario recently developed policies and guidelines to support and strengthen agricultural use. Municipalities are being encouraged to update their planning documents to permit and manage agritourism uses.

The amendments to the town’s zoning bylaw would bring it closer to conforming with provincial policies.

“Once you start down this path, what is sort of the track record around setting precedent?” councillor John Brennan asked.

“Once you start saying yes to a number of people, does that erode your possibility to saying no to somebody later on that you might not think is a good use?”

Scibberas responded, “It would set a preceden, definitely. The use is promoted and encouraged through provincial policy so it would be fairly difficult for council to say no.

“By doing a town-wide amendment you would be doing a certain set of standards that would apply to everyone and there would be better control from that perspective.”

Scibberas also presented council with the pros and cons of permitting various forms of agritourism, outlining planning processes to make the transition more attainable.

Among the pros, the amended bylaw would see an expansion of attractions and services within the town, keeping tourist revenue in town, strengthening the agricultural sector and zoning updates to support the sector.

However, permitting additional agritourism uses could potentially lead to additional traffic, which may require the town to impose added measures to ensure safe travel for residents and visitors, including the need for more signage and noise bylaw enforcement, among others.

The additional uses may also lead to concerns for neighbouring properties, including lighting, parking and noise, requiring site plan control to mitigate potential impacts.

Councillor Rob Smith, while in favour of amending the bylaw, echoed the concerns neighbours may have with regards to noise.

“I’m in favour of this, however it brings up some questions for me and one of the main things is neighbours,” he explained.

He added there would have to be strong site plan approvals or conditions on the bylaw.

“There are some things that I think still have to be vetted out and it boils down to neighbours having a say on what’s happening on the property next door,” said Smith.

“Something we have to consider, is it an amount of people on a percentage of the property?

“I think that’s really some of the concern, too, that really has to be worked out.”

Scibberas said she would collect additional information to see how other municipalities have approached and dealt with the issues raised.

Council received the report, directing staff to prepare a draft bylaw amendment to be presented at a public meeting.

The date of the public meeting has not been set.