Naturalist club asks council to waive severance fee

ABERFOYLE – To protect a property in perpetuity, Puslinch council is willing to forgo fees typically associated with land severance applications.

However, council made it clear it was only able to waive the fee for the township portion of the application – not the Wellington County portion.

Jen Baker of the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club made the pitch to council on Nov. 20.

Baker explained that Puslinch resident David Brewer wants to donate approximately 22 acres of his 33-acre property on Concession 1 to the club.

“He is also a member of the Hamilton Naturalist Club.”

She explained the donation would “allow the land to be protected forever.”

Baker said the naturalist club is now 100 years old.

“Founded in 1919, the charitable non-profit organization now has over 600 members … and we’ve been protecting land since 1961.”

Baker said, “we were the first organization in Ontario to acquire land just because it needed to be protected.”

Among its seven properties the club now protects over 455 acres of environmentally significant lands.

“We are responsible for taking care of that land to the best of our ability – forever.”

Baker explained some of those properties include trails while others don’t – such as one in the centre of the Beverley Swamp.

“We put trails on properties where we can maintain them.”

She added “we are a volunteer club with 1.5 staff members … therefore we do what we can to maintain properties over the long haul.”

The property requires a severance before the donation can take place, Baker explained.

She said the club had a good meeting with Wellington County planning staff who walked them through the process.

“Then we were told about some of the fees … those fees make a lot of sense if you are getting a benefit, but it is really steep for a charitable organization and for someone wanting to donate land so that it will be protected forever,” she said.

Baker said the benefit is for nature and the critters who live there.

“… but there is not a financial benefit.”

Baker then asked if council would entertain the idea of waiving the severance application fee.

Mayor James Seeley said said he was originally contacted regarding this and forwarded the idea to the county.

Seeley stated there is a specific path to apply for fee reductions.

The mayor pointed out council cannot waive the severance fee in its entirety, only the portion charged by the township (about $200).

Seeley favoured the idea of waiving that amount.

However, the mayor said he had concerns over proposing the land’s preservation until the end of time.

He asked “What happens in 100 years if the club doesn’t exist? Will it remain protected property?”

Baker said the group has thought about this and has documented that should something happen to the club, the properties would go to a like-minded organization.

Seeley said council could provide a letter of endorsement for the group seeking waiver of the county fees as well.

Councillor Matthew Bulmer considered the proposal to be fascinating.

He had no issue supporting waiving the fees because the proposal is not for development purposes.

Bulmer noted there was a charity going through a rezoning process for its property.

“We would have liked to be able to provide them a break too, but they didn’t ask.”

Overall, Bulmer had no issue with what the group was trying to achieve.

Baker noted the donation is being done through the federal Ecological Gifts Program – a program of Environment Canada which works with Revenue Canada – to ensure the property remains protected.

Councillor Jessica Goyda asked how the property would be protected.

Baker said “our plan is to not have any use on the property.”

She said there may be an annual hike on the property or invasive species management.

Goyda then asked if there would be public access or whether it would remain private.

Baker said “the land would remain private, because we are not really planning on putting in trails.”

She said “the public could take part in the annual hikes, but that would be it.”

Councillor John Sepulis was willing to support the local fee waiver in principal, but would not support covering the additional county fee.

Council’s resolution was to waive the local fee and endorse the idea of Wellington County waiving its portion of the land severance fees.

Councillor Bulmer then asked if the township could send Brewer a letter of thanks for the generous donation of property.