Rezoning of farmland for county garage final after council vote

'Administrative' holding provision on land lifted on Dec. 19

WELLINGTON NORTH – The final step in a zoning bylaw amendment process converting nine acres of agricultural land south of Arthur to rural industrial for a future county garage has been finalized by council here in a 3-2 vote on Dec. 19.

In May council voted in favour of the rezoning of the G and L White Farms land located at 7970 Wellington Road 12.

However, a holding provision placed on the rezoned land required more steps, including an archaeological assessment and another application to lift the hold, before the rezoning process would truly be final.

A tied council vote on Dec. 5 defeated a motion to receive a report on lifting the hold, which prevented a bylaw to do so from being voted on.

The bylaw lifting the hold was finally voted on at the Dec. 19 meeting, with councillors Penny Renken and Sherry Burke and Mayor Andy Lennox voting in favour and councillors Lisa Hern and Steve McCabe in opposition.

Lennox reiterated to council comments previously made to the Advertiser ahead of the meeting, noting that lifting of the hold was an “administrative function” — the land had already been rezoned by council in May (Lennox, Burke and former councillor Dan Yake voted in favour of rezoning; Hern and McCabe were opposed).

“The horse has already left the stable on this particular application,” Lennox said.

CAO Brooke Lambert backed Lennox’s interpretation, if not the cliché, saying, “Really the matter before this council is the removal of the holding provision.”

Despite consistently voting in favour of rezoning the farmland, councillor Burke said she “doesn’t necessarily like what is being presented,” adding, “this is a tough decision to make.”

Burke said council “in most circumstances” protects prime agricultural land and she was “disappointed to see that this site is the only site that was necessarily considered and presented.”

Burke was referring to a May report from GSP Group noting potential alternatives within Arthur had not been reviewed despite the availability of “vacant lands designated for industrial use and zoned industrial … where a public works yards is permitted, and where full municipal services are provided or planned.”

Then-CAO Mike Givens disclosed he had discussions about alternatives within Arthur’s urban boundary, but nothing formal had been presented.

Renken, who is a new councillor as of Nov. 21 and did not vote on the rezoning application, suggested that whatever decision was made, it would not be considered “palatable.”

Councillor Hern voiced her continued opposition, saying the land “feeds a lot of people” and “gives us our identity.”

“Every single one of us here are all based around agriculture in one way, shape, or form. That’s what Wellington North is,” she added.

Hern took issue with policy allowing for agricultural land to be used for public works buildings, despite typically being protected from such a use.

“I quite frankly don’t want to see that happen in other parts of the county,” she said, suggesting the county has “less regard for agricultural land than they promote.”

McCabe, who has also consistently voted in opposition, said he “never will be” in favour of rezoning prime agricultural land.

The councillor noted one of the owners of the property, Lynda White, is a former county warden (almost two decades ago) and remarked “this whole thing smells, it’s terrible.”

“The fact that this has gone on this far is not palatable to me,” he added.