Despite concerns raised by North Perth councillors, county adopts OPA No. 189

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PERTH COUNTY – When it came to OPA No. 189, the Official Plan Amendment to revise surplus farm dwelling policies in Perth County, North Perth was the holdout, raising concerns after the other three lower-tier municipalities, the Perth County Federation of Agriculture and several community members had provided endorsements.

During the council meeting on July 5, several members of North Perth council raised concerns about the amendment.

“One of the issues of concern... illustrated in the report from (Perth County Manager of Planning) Sally McMullen dealt with the issue of a minimum size of the lot being created,” said Coun. Allan Rothwell. “I stand firm in suggesting through this council, as in previous councils from North Perth, that surplus farmhouse severances are only for that – surplus farmhouse severances. If we are going to follow through with what the policy is suggesting here is the basis upon having larger parcels for surplus farmhouse severances and not the minimum parcel sizes required.”

He also remained concerned about allowing any animals on surplus farmhouse properties.

“Now I understand that the policy leaves it up to the local municipality whether or not to allow for the keeping of animals for non-commercial purposes but I can assure you the answer has been clear in terms of what the province and the law have said in terms of the keeping and raising of livestock on undersized parcels in North Huron in particular,” said Rothwell.

Coun. Julie Behrns shared some of Rothwell’s concerns.

“I am very concerned about what we’re deeming consolidation of farming operations,” she said. “We’ve heard the excuse about land ownership names and my concern is if you have two different owners owning a property it isn’t a farm consolidation – that’s simply put. I mean originally when Perth County talked about surplus farmhouse severances it was a concern that… we’re going to be creating a lot of problems when these farms pass on and as we all know, they always do. So it may not appear to be a big issue right now, I do believe it is going to be a big issue 10 years from now when people are coming back purchasing what appears to be these empty acres.”

Behrns acknowledged zoning bylaws don’t permit building on those empty acres but she anticipates there will be pressure to build to populate the rural countryside.

“One of my main concerns is the confusion between secondary farm occupation, home industry and I notice now the text includes small manufacturing,” she said. “I’m not sure that is the intent of what was originally proposed as surplus farm house severances.”

Behrns said she realizes due to policies in the past there already is small manufacturing in rural areas, but about the size of builds to accommodate small manufacturing.

“We’ve had this pressure, a 60 feet by 100 feet building to do small manufacturing on a surplus farmhouse severance lot, is that really the intention of what this policy was created for?” she asked. “So unfortunately right now because there are not really any answers I simply can’t vote to endorse this at this time.”

Mayor Todd Kasenberg said he was somewhat uneasy.

“I feel somewhat uneasy that some of our team are a little bit concerned still… and you know I wonder if endorsing is a premature step,” he said. “Maybe we need to document some of these remaining concerns. I don’t know how strongly felt they are by all councillors so I’m not sure where to go with that.”

Kasenberg thought there very reasonable and rational explanations for the concerns.

“I don’t want to sort of rush over that if that concern remains especially as we want to get this right in the interest of our community,” he said.

Coun. Matt Richardson suggested it would be beneficial to take the concerns that were raised and have McMullen come speak to council and defer endorsing OPA No. 189.

Kasenberg informed council that they had until noon on July 6 to send staff an email if they had further concerns to be sent to McMullen.

They amended their motion to forward the concerns raised to McMullen and to defer endorsing OPA No. 189.

However, a vote to endorse OPA No. 189 was already on the agenda for the Perth County council meeting on July 8.

Discussion continues at Perth County council

McMullen explained that the amendment process was embarked upon to respond to community members who were seeking more fulsome use and a variety of accessory uses on residential farm properties once they are severed.

“Through that democratic process what you often find with any democracy is that there are those who endorse the amendment and those who do have remaining concerns,” she said. “So that is the case here as well… You will recall seeing endorsement from West Perth, Perth South, Perth East, the Perth County Federation of Agriculture and… members of the community have also provided endorsements. There are however some remaining concerns from members of council in North Perth and those concerns are related to the minimum size of the lots that are created through this policy, the planning authorities’ jurisdiction to limit the keeping of livestock in agricultural zones, the way we measure farm consolidation and permissions that the amendment would afford for folks who work from that would have a small business potentially in buildings other than the dwelling.”

She not that if an individual municipality wished, it could simply not permit certain accessory uses.

“What we aim to achieve, I believe, is adherence to the provincial policy statement and the direction there to really aim for minimum size and achieve a limited amount of farmland coming out of the main parcels as possible,” said McMullen. “We wanted to be able to find a balance that helps us in Perth County to protect this incredibly valuable resource we have of the agricultural lands here. A balance between that and also meeting the needs of the community.”

Kasenberg told McMullen during the Perth County council meeting that there were some questions and matters that remained outstanding for North Perth council.

“Certainly we acted with due haste to try to get those to you,” he said. “Concerning those matters, I’m a little apprehensive about this amendment being approved directly today until North Perth council has had a full opportunity to look at the response to it. At the same time, I know how urgent it is to move forward with some of these matters. I guess I’m raising the flag a little bit that if North Perth council hasn’t heard this then what might be the remedies if we do move ahead with this amendment.”

“If the amendment is approved the next steps would be that North Perth council work with planning staff to arrive at a zoning amendment that feels comfortable in North Perth,” said McMullen. “The removal of the prescriptive language in the Official Plan doesn’t mean that you automatically permit necessarily the keeping of animals, for example, but offers you that your zoning bylaw can be used as a tool to do that if you wanted to.”

She pointed out that one of the concerns of North Perth council is the jurisdiction around keeping animals.

Coun. Rhonda Ehgoetz said she believes there is a policy already in place in Perth East about animals because they have Mennonite residents who keep horses.

“So that might be a place North Perth could enquire with Perth East to see how we handle it,” she said.

McMullen said the concern of some North Perth council members raised is reflected on and experience in Huron County where some lots permit up to four nutrient units. A nutrient unit is defined as the number of animals that will give the fertilizer replacement value of the lower of 43 kilograms of nitrogen or 55 kilograms of phosphate per year as nutrients.

“Which can be a fair number of animals in certain types,” she said. “So the nature of those uses could be seen as not necessarily accessory anymore – that they are a small livestock operation. The nutrient management act would supersede the planning authority and say you can’t limit a livestock operation in an agricultural zone.”

McMullen explained that what is being proposed for North Perth is that livestock numbers are not permitted in that magnitude, but if somebody used horse-drawn modes of transportation or backyard chickens or a 4-H calf, they would be able to do that if they are living in a rural area. “There is a way to recognize that through zoning as a non-commercial use… that could only be possible if the prescriptive language in the Official Plan was removed,” she said. “So it’s not the Official Plan amendment that would permit that necessarily, it’s that removing the prohibition will allow lower tiers to permit it.”

Another area of concern for North Perth was the permission the lower-tier municipality might give for someone to have a small business on one of the severed lots and work from home. The concern is that it may become more than work from home and there may be requests for more employees or outdoor storage.

“I guess the common phrasing around it is, was the intention of surplus farm building severances really to have small manufacturing businesses on these properties,” said McMullen. “The answer that I have to that is fundamentally… in Perth County we have permitted them. We, in our current Official Plan, call them secondary farm occupations and the intention there was that folks in the rural areas would be able to optimize their property to augment their incomes, augment farm incomes.”

Current policies permit a secondary farm occupation on a non-farm residential property so it is permitted to have small manufacturing so that residents could make a living as a tradesperson or contractor from home in an accessory structure.

“There are zoning provisions for that in each of the lower tiers today,” said McMullen. “What we wanted to add through this amendment was that opportunity to be a little more fulsome. That someone wanting to do a similar thing but perhaps not described as a trade or contractor could also have those opportunities – so things more of an artisan nature and that’s what the amendment is meant to achieve.”

Ehgoetz said that as a member of the land division committee, they try to make lots as small as possible but depending on locations of outbuildings such as sheds in relation to septic systems and wells, it is not always easy.

“You have to look at each property to figure out what is the best and we’ve been doing our best to try to make them small,” she said. “There is also some onus on the local municipality. When they send the application into land division they should be telling us how they want it and that’s not always happening. Sometimes it comes and they expect the land division committee to shrink it and when we don’t do that they get quite upset with us... That’s something that if North Perth has that concern then when you apply make sure it’s the exact size you want it to be.”

“Not to be argumentative,” said Kasenberg. “But there certainly have been times when North Perth council has expressed its intentions and its desires for lot sizing in surplus farm dwellings and that land division did not seem to apply those… certainly I’ve felt the heat at North Perth council as one of the county councillors… That heat from councillors querying why our recommendations were not looked at or not achieved by land division so there is something of a two-way street here.”

Coun. Robert Wilhelm observed that this amendment highlights the fact that although they are all located in Perth County, there are differences in the lower-tier municipalities.

“You cannot make an OPA for surplus farmhouse severances that, in my opinion, would satisfy everyone and I think the lower tiers can amend their bylaws to look after how restrictive they want to be,” he said. “For years we have seen differences and I’m sorry – I think this report is very thorough, everybody has had time to make their comments and I think this should be dealt with today… To me if there is a small business that starts up in the rural area hopefully the lower-tier zoning bylaw looks after it.

“I agree with Coun. Ehgoetz after sitting on the land division (committee). Their decisions are very restrictive and there are excellent decisions made. Sometimes I don’t agree with them all but that’s fine too. But I think the decisions land division has made were justified and I would certainly support moving ahead with this amendment.”

Perth County council, including Kasenberg and Coun. Doug Kellum, voted unanimously in favour of adopting OPA No. 189. North Perth Coun. Matt Duncan was absent.

Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner

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