The official plan of Southwest Middlesex shapes the future of what can be built and where. It is the most important policy that affects everything including housing, recreation, and the local economy.
The launch of a review of the official plan at a public meeting April 27 is a chance to change where Southwest Middlesex is headed for the first time since the original official plan for the municipality was passed in December 2007. By law, it is reviewed every five years, and was last consolidated in June 2019.
The timeline for this work with consultants Monteith Brown has the next special council meeting with recommendations for changes June 20, a chance to make more changes after a public meeting Aug. 24, and adoption to be determined. The County of Middlesex must then later approve any changes.
Municipal elections are scheduled for Oct. 24. As of last week, only current councillors Mike Sholdice and Christa Cowell had been nominated for the position of deputy mayor.
Monteith Brown consultant Dan Smith said affordable housing will be looked at for residential developments, as will extra dwellings on properties, growth projections and intensification targets.
Those growth projections will take into account the new census data that counted 5,893 Southwest Middlesex residents in 2021.
Agriculture is important for the area. Diversified uses will be looked at, but remain secondary to the main agriculture use of the land, according to Smith. He added that the Province wants farmers to have more flexibility on how to use their land, with size of these different uses limited usually to about two acres.
“It’s not the intention that full-blown industrial or commercial uses be permitted as part of this,” said Smith.
Mayor Allan Mayhew brought up the practice of what he described as “vertical farming.”
“There is a reduction of population in rural areas, particularly as large, corporate farms are the fashion today. There is just a lack of life sometimes, and I think there are social consequences to that,” said Mayhew.
“We can see it in the population of our schools, in the children riding on the buses. We can see it in organizations that fold like women’s institute, rural places of worship. And another one could even be the agricultural societies are challenged.”
The mayor spoke of finding balance.
“We must protect that agricultural industry, but we will be getting to a point where factory farming will replace rural life, and I’m concerned about that,” said Mayhew, adding it was difficult to bring up at the County of Middlesex level.
“I find that my opinion is certainly not shared by others,” he said.
Severance issues came up several times during this municipal term, and Smith said criteria surplus farm dwelling severances and minor lot boundary adjustments will be looked at.
Policies addressing climate change and protecting natural spaces are to be considered. The Thompson Wetland is considered an area of provincial importance, according to Smith.
The Krista Lane subdivision built in the 1970s before current rules will be looked at, especially any undeveloped lots.
Coun. Amy Choi asked for details on additional dwelling units.
Smith said municipalities have been changing official plans to allow them mostly in settlement areas, either as a suite in a home or by constructing another building on the property. Mayor Mayhew described that topic of discussion as fluid at the county level.
Coun. Martin Vink said he wanted the policy to look at an example he heard from a local farm family who wanted to put a second residence on their 150-acre agricultural property, with a daughter joining the operation.
Smith spoke to how things have tightened up around severances on agricultural land since he started in this line of work.
“We had… farm-related severances for a son or daughter who was actively engaged in the farm operation, you could create a building lot. You could create a building lot for a retiring farmer. You could create a building lot for an infilling situation, or you could create a building lot for an oversized residential lot. With the exception of surplus farm severances, all those other types of lots have basically been taken away by the Province for whatever reasons, and I think that has really significantly reduced the opportunities for the farming community,” said Smith.
He did acknowledge the Province was trying to address examples of abuse like flipping of new lots created for retirement.
“So it ended up in the hands of somebody with no association with the farm community whatsoever,” explained Smith.
He did add that this will be a general policy review and not dive too deep into specific land use or boundary changes, saying there will be an appropriate time to do that later. Any Southwest Middlesex plan also has to obey the county official plan.
That being said, Smith did say settlement areas for the communities in the municipality will see policy discussion “minor area boundary adjustments.” He described timing Southwest Middlesex’s official plan review with the County of Middlesex official plan review was a good idea.
Chris Gareau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Middlesex Banner