Bruce County seeks municipal feedback on agriculture for new Official Plan

·3 min read

BROCKTON – As the county’s new Official Plan (OP) takes shape, consultations with municipalities and members of the public continue.

On May 25, Mark Paoli, Bruce County’s director of planning and development, addressed Brockton council with an update on the portion of the OP pertaining to agriculture.

There are still several steps remaining – finalizing the discussion papers, the draft OP, and revisions, before it goes to county council for adoption. From there it goes to the province.

The plan will help guide directions to ensure Bruce County continues to have a strong agricultural community.

“Good planning decisions now will help us support local food producers and expand their opportunities beyond our borders to create markets for a thriving, healthy agricultural community,” he said in his report.

Paoli said there are seven key topics – prime agricultural area mapping, minimum size for agricultural lots, surplus farm dwelling severances, new residential lots in woodlots, industrial and commercial uses on farms, urban-agriculture edge planning and cannabis production – with 14 recommended directions involving agriculture.

The OP identifies prime agricultural areas and potential prime agricultural areas that need to be protected, as well as rural areas where there’s still farming but rules can be more flexible when it comes to other uses. Edge planning – looking at land use in areas near population centres – presents both challenges and opportunities.

Among the points being discussed with the public are sizes of farm lots. Paoli told council the general rule remains 100 acres for agricultural and 50 acres for rural, but there’s an area along Highway 9 where original lots were 50 acres.

Also being discussed are irregularly shaped lots as opposed to rectangular – the former keeps more farm land in agriculture.

Consideration is being given to removing the “bona fide farmer” stipulation. Paoli explained it is in the current OP to keep land in agriculture and prevent land speculation by developers. However, the stipulation creates hurdles for someone who is not currently a farmer buying a piece of property with the intention of farming it in the future.

Another item discussed by Paoli was permitting residential lots in woodlots. There’s a difference between Grey and Bruce counties that might have something to do with the nature of woodlots – Bruce’s tend to be on wetlands.

There is some debate about whether cannabis operations are agricultural or industrial.

Hamlets are being looked at in terms of declining population.

Paoli said municipal and other feedback will be incorporated into the new OP, which should be ready in 2022, creating a “made in Bruce” agricultural system policy.

Coun. Kym Hutcheon asked about “A1 farmland on the edge of our hamlet (Chepstow).”

Paoli answered by speaking about “looking within existing boundaries” for opportunities, such as allowing second dwelling units on lots. If growing within boundaries isn’t possible, that’s when the more complicated task of looking outside boundaries occurs. He said development in hamlets is “difficult” since it’s important to have “critical mass” in Walkerton.

Coun. Steve Adams commented that 25 years for the Official Plan “seems a long period of time” especially considering the last two years during which so much has happened.

Coun. Dean Leifso asked about “Brockton land around Hanover.” At present, Hanover is looking for land on which to expand. He mentioned the word “annexation.”

Paoli said land wouldn’t be identified as “settlement-in-waiting.” There’s quite a process to go through. Unless that process takes place, “as long as it’s in Bruce, we map as we see fit.”

Mayor Chris Peabody commented about his concern that “Hanover could move onto A1 farmland but someone in Chepstow couldn’t.”

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Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times

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