BRUCEDALE – When it comes to creating new farm parcels, size does matter.
On Feb. 10, Guelph-Eramosa councillors had an extensive discussion regarding 5161 Jones Baseline.
Senior planner Meagan Ferris explained the proponents requested use of a lot line adjustment to sever a 11.95ha (29.5ac) parcel of land and add it to the adjacent property (5184 Wellington County Road 29) owned by Donkers Poultry Farms Ltd.
The retained lands will be 3.84ha (9.5ac) in size and retain an existing dwelling, two barns and two other accessory structures.
Ferris said the retained parcel is intended to operate as a small-scale agricultural operation with alpacas, chickens and a future micro-cultivation operation for cannabis.
Ferris said her review of the proposal from a policy perspective – both provincial and county – indicated this is a permitted application.
“I think fundamentally, in principle lot line adjustments are acceptable, but I have concern with the size of land this involves,” Ferris said.
She asked whether or not in the long term a property of less than 10 acres would be a viable agricultural property.
Ferris stated the county’s official plan establishes a minimum lot size in prime agricultural areas as being 35ha (86.4ac) and smaller lots can be contemplated in some scenarios if it is adequately demonstrated that the type of agricultural use can function on a smaller lot.
Overall, 35ha (86.4ac) is considered viable.
Ferris stated if the lot line adjustment is approved by the county, the property would require either a minor variance or rezoning to acknowledge the small size.
Ferris forwarded three recommendations to council to consider.
However, her focus was on the second recommendation, which stated that if council supported the agricultural lot line adjustment application in principle, the township’s preference would be the retained lands be reduced to a minimum size required to support the existing dwelling.
The sizing would be similar to severances created for surplus farm dwellings.
Mayor Chris White called this lot line adjustment “unusual to say the least.”
White said there was also talk about the viability of the smaller property as a farm.
He agreed one might make a case for a horse farm.
“The difficulty I see here is that we’d be going back to creating farms of five acres here, 15 acres in another location,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s not our call, land division makes the decision.”
White said if council supports this, it should be prepared for more proposals of a similar nature.
“We want to support the agricultural community, but if the agricultural operation fails, what we end up with is a 10-acre estate lot, which is exactly what provincial policy is trying to prevent,” he said.
Councillor Mark Bouwmeester said this is bringing a farm property down to 9.5 acres.
He asked what would prevent this from being reduced even further.
Ferris pointed out this was not reviewed under the policies for a surplus farm dwelling severance.
She said using that criteria, one would only need the property containing the house and accessory structures.
White said he saw this as a grey area since essentially two farm properties would be created.
He then asked if a 9.5 acre farm property is viable.
Ferris said her recommendation for this would be to reduce the retained lot size to what would be considered for a surplus farm severance to retain a residential lot.
She added this was her opinion only.
White stated, “There is nothing wrong with innovation and things change all the time.”
He added, “My concern is the preservation of agricultural land; we don’t want to start creating estate lots.”
White again questioned what happens to the property if the business plan proves unsuccessful.
Councillor Corey Woods suggested that sometime back in history, this property started off as a 100-acre rectangular farm.
“It seems this property has been carved up a number of times,” Woods said.
He questioned the purpose of retaining a long, skinny field behind the house.
White suggested the idea could be to have some speciality crops.
Woods said, “we can’t assume their business plan is to have 4,000 marijuana plants back there.
“Without knowing their intent, the normal practice would be to simply square off the property around the farmhouse and give them two acres.”
Ferris said limited information was provided on potential use, which included raising chickens and alpacas, possibly an organic farm and/or a small grow-op.
“I think you will always run into challenges when asking to demonstrate viability on something which doesn’t fully function as a farm,” she said.
White asked if council could ask the county to require the business plan be viable before granting approval.
“We do not want to start hacking up the farms,” he said. “We don’t want to create backdoors to dice up these properties.”
White maintained “if there is a good viable farm business plan … maybe this is a new way of doing it.”
Bouwmeester stated that regardless of the decision, the retained lot is still undersized for a farm property.
Ferris pointed out the original property was already undersized.
“This makes it more undersized,” she said.
Ferris stressed this proposal is not being reviewed under the surplus farm dwelling severance policies as the retained lands will function as a small agricultural operation.
She suggested if council approves this then council is approving the reduced size of farmland as being appropriate.
Woods said if council agrees to tiny little farms, it should agree on what size those tiny little farms should be.
Councillor Bruce Dickieson believed council should have a discussion on strategy before making a decision.
“This is fairly important and will affect the future of the township,” he said. “This could set a precedent.”
White said he’d never seen this type of proposal before and wanted to know the county position on it.
“It would be nice if we had some policy direction on the official plan and farm severances,” he said. “The fear here is that while this proposal may be well and good, it opens the door to turning the township back into a checkerboard.
“Out here with the price of farmland … there’s a lot of money involved.”
White said if the farm proposal fails, it creates highly valuable estate lots.
He added, “what I am hearing from council is that we are not comfortable with this, we don’t like it, it doesn’t really make sense and unless we see a business plan showing this is viable, we don’t really have anything to go on.”
At present, White said there is nothing to stop the proponent from going out of farming two years from now.
“What is the guarantee this would stay as a farm?” he said.
“If we start hacking up our farmland, we better do it with our eyes open.”
CAO Ian Roger said he would meet with Wellington County planning staff.
Council requested further information before a decision.
The final decision on the matter will remain with Wellington County.