Plans to retire on severed Arthur farmland dashed after council vote

KENILWORTH – Wellington North council, acting as an adjustment committee, voted on June 5 against allowing Elgin and Joan Craig to separate a 7.4-acre chunk of land from their farm property to build a rural residence.

The Craigs operate a family-run beef farm on 151 acres along Highway 6 near Arthur.

Elgin and Joan applied last year to sever the acreage of trees and scrub brush fronting Sideroad 10 West to build a home for their retirement.

The farm would keep operating on the remaining land which has barns, a manure pit, house, shed and garage.

“I think it’s important that we keep farmers on the farm,” Elgin told council last week.

“This is part of farm succession.”

In October, the family’s severance application went before council with county planners (county staff provide the township with planning opinions) recommending it not be supported because land use policy doesn’t allow for residential lots to be created on farmland.

Though the land the Craigs want to build on is considered prime agricultural, the family contends it’s not suitable for agricultural use in reality, nor is it growing anything of agricultural value.

Mayor Andy Lennox and councillor Lisa Hern voted to oppose the severance while councillor Steve McCabe and then-councillor Dan Yake voted to support it (councillor Sherry Burke was absent).

Despite the vote, the decision ultimately fell to the county’s land division committee, which considered Wellington North’s position but granted provisional consent for the severance roughly a month later.

The severance could only happen, however, if township council granted an exception to the area required between homes and nearby agricultural operations.

When it comes to land use planning, the belief is people shouldn’t live near a hog barn, so there are minimum separation distances prescribed in zoning bylaws.

The township’s bylaw, in this scenario, states there needs to be 1,854 feet of separation.

But because of a pig farm across the road, the Craigs could only manage 656 feet of separation.

That the Craigs are farmers and don’t mind farms, and that the hog farmer is supportive of the Craig’s retirement plan, matters not.

There’s simply no way the Craig’s new home would be far enough away to meet the requirement, and council would have to make an exception to the rule.

Mayor Andy Lennox reiterated his lack of support for the severance at the recent meeting, noting the proposed home on the severed parcel would also prevent the pig farm from expanding its operation in the future.

The separation applies to a residence being far enough away from agricultural operations – but also vice-versa.

“I have a hard time creating these types of lots in the rural area for this very reason,” the mayor remarked.

Councillor Sherry Burke contended the exception requested wasn’t minor, and said she isn’t supportive of it.

“I can’t help but go back to some of the conversations that we had at the last council meeting with regards to agricultural land and I wonder how this will impact the agricultural community around it, specifically the parcel with the hog farm on it now,” she said.

Council couldn’t get past the technicality, and in a 4-1 vote, the Craigs learned their retirement plan wasn’t getting council’s blessing.

Councillor Steve McCabe was the lone vote in support of allowing an exception. He also supported the severance in his vote last year.

The land has sat devoid of use for more than four decades, McCabe said at last week’s meeting, suggesting that a “long and deserved retirement home” was a good use for it.

Councillor Lisa Hern suggested the Craigs consider an accessory dwelling to the already existing home on the land, but Elgin said that would remove acres of farmland from production and bring undue hardship on the family.

Elgin asked council about appealing the decision to the Ontario Land Tribunal, which makes binding rulings in disputes over land use planning.

It wasn’t immediately clear, as the Craigs weigh their options, if they will take the township to the tribunal over council’s decision.