Site plan control on agricultural buildings, impact of fill regulations

When it comes to the use of fill, Wellington County’s manager of development planning Aldo Salis believes the exemption of agricultural buildings, structures and uses from the site plan control process in Puslinch is similar to the approach used by the other municipalities in Wellington County and adjacent communities.

The exemption of agricultural uses is also in keeping with the policy framework provided in the county’s Official Plan.

In his report to Puslinch council on March 8, Salis told Puslinch council that his report that day was the result of a request for information on site plan control measures and more specifically how agricultural buildings, structures and uses are addressed.

He noted Section 41 of the Planning Act provides the authority for a municipality to establish a “site plan control area” within its community.

Such areas are established by a municipal bylaw subject to the applicable Official Plan policies that state plan control areas can be implemented.

In Puslinch, all lands within the municipality are identified as a “site plan control area.”

When development is proposed, an applicant may be required to obtain approval for  building plans and site drawings of the proposed development.

The township’s building and planning department administers the site plan application review and approval function under the direction of the CBO.

The objectives of this municipal review and approval process is to ensure: the proper and orderly development of land; that adequate services and utilities are provided; that the development addresses public health, safety, and accessibility requirements; and the township’s development standards are maintained; that environmental protection and mitigation measures are implemented where applicable; and that appropriate building design and cultural heritage elements if applicable to the property are effectively implemented.

Site plan control is a mechanism used by municipalities to direct external design and site features of commercial, industrial, and institutional developments and high density residential projects.

Typical matters addressed under site plan control include provisions for building character and appearance, and sustainable design, off-street parking and loading areas, walkways and accessibility, lighting, landscaping, fencing, services and utilities, waste storage, grading, stormwater management, accessory buildings and facilities, signage, surface cover, groundwater impact mitigation and other features.

Most site plan control bylaws exempt single detached and semi-detached residential development from the site plan review process.

However, some bylaws include small residential development when grading and drainage, environmental protection, or cultural heritage issues are matters to be addressed.

Also, many municipal site plan control bylaws exempt agricultural buildings, structures and uses. Puslinch Township’s bylaw is no different from this approach, Salis explained.

While the wording may be slightly different, with respect to agriculture, the intent of most site plan control bylaws is to not require a site plan review process for typical agricultural development.

The agricultural-related exemption in the Puslinch Township site plan control bylaw “potentially” applies to: “agricultural and/or farm buildings and structures and exempt farm help houses, trailers and garden suites.”

Salis noted that having reviewed the site plan control bylaws for the other municipalities in Wellington County as well as those for Cambridge, Hamilton, Halton Hills and Milton, “we can confirm that these municipalities all exempt agricultural buildings and structures similar to the exemption provided in the [Puslinch]site plan control bylaw.”

He also noted that Wellington County’s Official Plan anticipates the exclusion of some types of land uses from the municipal site plan process.

Councillor Matthew Bulmer said “it is always good to see if we are in step with our other partners in the county.” Bulmer said he’d received some concerns that perhaps Puslinch was giving a “pass” on agricultural buildings – unlike everyone else.

“This clarifies our treatment under site plan control is no different than other municipalities,” said Bulmer, adding he was also pleased to read comments on applicable law.

“When I look at other municipalities and site alteration bylaws, there is a link between building permits and the site alteration process.”

He was curious that the link did not exist in Puslinch.

Bulmer suggested in those cases where the building permit is unable to deal with site alteration issues then the site alteration bylaw would come into play – independent of the building permit.

“If the building permit deals with things already included in the site alternation … of course you don’t need permit,” he said, but if the permit is not capable of handling the situation, then the site alteration bylaw would come into effect.

Roth asked “What what happens (when) a person [gets] a permit and does not build?”

CAO Karen Landry said there must be activity on a building permit within six months. Roth asked if activity makes the permit active.

Landry asked if Roth meant whether bringing in fill would make the building permit active. CBO Robert Kelly explained while excavation would be considered activating a permit, bringing in fill would not.

“We would be looking for the placement of a structural pad, compaction and footings as commencement of construction,” said Kelly.

Roth then asked what happens if the building permit expires before that happened.

Kelly said if work did not begin within the first six months after the permit was issued, “we’d send a notice of revocation” but provide an opportunity for the applicant to provide a fee to extend the time. After 30 days if there was no response, the permit would be revoked and legal proceedings against the person would begin. If a fee was submitted to extend the permit, it would only be a one-shot deal.

“Essentially, they’d have a year to commence the project.”

Landry clarified that prosecution would be under the township’s site alternation bylaw, if the act was bringing in fill, with no excavations and the permit being ultimately revoked.

Kelly agreed, stating, “There is nothing under the Building Code Act we could pursue.”

Lever agreed with Bulmer that it is good to review things from time to time to understand the township’s position.