Proposed provincial land use changes raise concerns for residents and county

WELLINGTON COUNTY – The province’s proposed easing of restrictions on development of farmland, especially for gravel pits, has prompted objections from the Concerned Residents Coalition (CRC) and the Wellington County planning department.

Changes to the provincial policy statement (PPS), which governs land use, are being considered primarily to support the government’s housing supply action plan, intended to expand the volume and types of housing available, but it will affect other types of growth as well.

“The cost of buying a home is becoming out of reach for many and affordable rentals are too hard to find,” said Steve Clarke, Ontario’s minister of municipal affairs and housing.

“The cost of housing is hurting Ontario’s economy, making it harder to attract investment and create jobs.

“Housing must be built in the right places, so we can maintain Ontario’s vibrant agricultural sector and employment lands, protect sensitive areas like the Greenbelt and preserve cultural heritage. Every community should build in response to local interests and demand, building a mix of housing to accommodate diverse needs.”

CRC, known for its opposition to the proposed “hidden quarry” near Rockwood, fears that the PPS will not provide sufficient protection for human health, natural heritage lands and farmland.

“We are faced with an unrelenting need for housing and economic growth but are also facing extreme climatic events that will lead to possible effects on our health, water systems and/or the mass extinction of many species of plants and animals,” said Doug Tripp, CEO at CRC.

Sarah Wilhelm, manager of policy planning for Wellington County, recently presented a report to Guelph-Eramosa council with a number of concerns about the impact if proposed PPS changes go into effect.

She said proposed guidelines for allowing non-agricultural uses such as manufacturing, golf courses and other businesses in prime agricultural areas appear to be more permissive, especially for the minimum distance between farm facilities such as manure processing and surrounding land uses.

Regarding aggregate pits, it is proposed that the depth of extraction be controlled under the Aggregate Resources Act.

“The intent of the new wording is unclear and we are concerned that it may be meant to remove the ability of municipalities to continue to use vertical zoning to regulate extraction below the water table,” said Wilhelm.

She said the province is proposing to allow extraction in provincially significant wetlands (outside of the county), as well as woodlands, valleylands, wildlife habitat, areas of natural and scientific interest; fish habitat; and habitat of endangered and threatened species.

“The more permissive draft policies would appear to allow interim negative impacts to features and areas in favour of potential long-term environmental benefits through rehabilitation,” she said.

“We do not support these permissive aggregate policies in the draft PPS, particularly in areas of the county where there is a high concentration of gravel pits.”

The CRC says the PPS needs to be strengthened and improved, and should not represent a “red tape reduction” for industry.

Current policy already treats gravel pits as an interim land use, but CRC says they represent “non-reversible damage to our precious farmland”.

Trip said long-term rehabilitation plans by aggregate companies should not be the used to justify new pits.

“This is unbelievable, as rehabilitation terms required in aggregate licenses rarely lead to an operator returning extracted land back to its original use… There is rarely any monitoring of these sites,” he said. “We believe that no policies should be introduced that allow aggregates extraction to override protections for prime agricultural land and our natural environment.”

He said there is an oversupply of aggregate in Ontario, and CRC recommends removing a current provision by which aggregate firms are not required to prove the need for a new pit.

With wetlands disappearing at what CRC calls an “alarming rate”, Tripp said CRC is concerned about the proposal to allow municipalities to manage wetlands that have not been evaluated.

“We do not understand why such an important resource to our province is left to municipal councils who may be interested in economic development versus wetland conservation,” he said.