Farm fragmentation a concern as councillors debate rezoning application

ELORA – Centre Wellington councillors had some debate over a seemingly simple surplus farm dwelling severance application. 

Before the March 25 council meeting Centre Wellington held a public meeting to discuss a rezoning application for the farm on 6260 Jones Baseline. The rezoning application is associated with a surplus farm dwelling application. 

The proposed severed parcel will be 0.6 hectares (1.5 acres) and includes the house, driveway, septic system and trees. The retained farm parcel would be 40.7 hectares (100 acres), which contains retained barns and outbuildings close to the severed house. Those barns do not house animals.

The entire parcel is currently zoned agriculture and environmental protection and the application is to rezone the retained parcel to agriculture exception to prohibit a house to be built on the retained farm parcel. 

That’s a function of the provincial policy statement. The owner of the retained parcel will also have to comply with general minimum distance separation guidelines if they choose to house animals on the property. None of the current barns meet these requirements because they are too close to the severed house. 

“The severed parcel otherwise complies with all zoning requirements,” said township senior planner Mariana Iglesias. 

Councillor Ian MacRae said he has concern about this specific rezoning as well as farm dwelling surplus severances. 

“My concern is these severances fragment agricultural land creating residential lots that create restrictions on farmers, threatening our successful agricultural sector,” he said. 

He added that restricting the area where animals can be housed on the retained parcel is not promoting agriculture and is actually favouring the homeowner. 

“I understand minimum density separation may be a problem here but that wasn’t a problem when the house was still adjoined to the barns,” MacRae said. 

When the farm and house were owned by the same person the minimum distance separation guidelines didn’t apply, Iglesias explained. 

“It only applies basically to expansion or new livestock facilities from that to the nearest neighbour’s dwelling,” Iglasias said. “So in this case, now a new property line was being created but my understanding from the farmer is that there is no livestock in those buildings, so farming is still occurring.”

MacRae said his concern is more for the future when the farmer may decide to sell the farmland. 

“If at some point when he decides to stop farming and say his relatives are not prepared to take on the operation or the operation is too expensive for them to take on, then are we looking at selling off these parcels?” MacRae asked.

“In which case we’re selling off a parcel that has these restrictions already on it and he has some perfectly good barns on that site right now and yet you’re not allowed to use them for purposes like keeping livestock on the farm. 

“So my concern is looking further out. Are we already sort of tying the hands of the farmer who may buy this land that they’re restricted to what they can do? And that, to me, is a shame.”

Iglesias explained that it’s only a problem to put animals in the barns that are on the lot now. New owners would be able to construct new barns for the purpose of housing livestock. 

“It seems like this is the direction that we’re going in as far as making sure that we keep the homes and the property in good repair because the farmer doesn’t want to look after the homes that are on the land,” Mayor Kelly Linton said. 

“These types of consolidations are not for livestock operations, they’re typically only crops and growing of crops,” Iglesias said, adding that the barns are often removed. 

Councillor Bob Foster asked for confirmation that once the farmland is severed no house will be permitted to be constructed on the retained property. 

Brett Salmon, managing director of planning and development, confirmed no additional houses could be constructed. 

Foster pointed out that there is already a farm severance in the north east corner of the retained parcel. 

“I have some concern about that because generally you don’t want to see too many severances on the same lot,” he said “Otherwise you end up with sort of urbanism in the country.”

Salmon said there are no policy restrictions that count previous severances. 

“Under today’s planning rules this farm surplus dwelling is the only kind of severance anyone can ever get,” Salmon said. 

“In a prime ag area there is no other potential to create any additional residential lots here beyond severing off the surplus …  and that policy doesn’t take into account any prior history of severed lots.”

In the council meeting that followed the public meeting Iglesias recommended that council approve the rezoning application. 

The rezoning passed in a 5-2 vote with MacRae and Foster in opposition.