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Grey County concerned by 'radical shift' in provincial planning

Increasing the number of severances allowed in agricultural areas could lead to half a million new rural lots across the province, says University of Guelph professor and planning expert
University of Guelph professor and planning expert Dr. Wayne Caldwell spoke to Grey County council virtually on May 11.

Grey County council is concerned that the future of farming in the local area could be dramatically impacted by proposed new provincial planning policies that could lead to a proliferation of new residential lots in rural and agricultural areas.

The new draft provincial policy statement would allow increased lot creation in areas that are currently primarily agricultural and rural. Under current planning policies, lot creation in agricultural lands is heavily restricted. In an effort to spur more housing construction, the province is proposing that agricultural lands be allowed to have up to two severances.

At its meeting on May 11, county council voted to send a staff report expressing concerns about the proposed policies to the Environmental Registry of Ontario.

At the meeting, University of Guelph professor and planning expert Dr. Wayne Caldwell told council the proposed provincial policy change could lead to half a million new rural/agricultural lots being created across the province.

Caldwell called the proposed policy change a “radical shift.”

“I never thought that provincial land-use policy could be such a threat to the future of agriculture in Ontario,” said Caldwell, who said on a typical rural concession block there could be as many as 30 new residential lots created over time.

Caldwell told county council that increasing residential lots in farming areas could lead to conflicts between neighbours and, with minimum distance separation policies in place, farming practices could be severely hindered.

“There will be virtually no space for someone wanting to establish a livestock operation,” he said. “This is such a fundamental concern for the future of agriculture in this province. Once it’s in place, there’s no going back.”

Members of county council expressed frustration with what they say is a “one size fits all” approach to policy changes.

“Things are a lot different in the Ottawa Valley than they are in the Beaver Valley,” said West Grey Mayor Kevin Eccles.

Scott Taylor, the county’s director of planning, told council that county staff estimate that the severance policy change could lead to 10,000 new lots in rural/agricultural areas. He said county staff support many of the changes being proposed by the province in an effort to accelerate the construction of much-needed housing across Ontario.

“We do want to be at the table with the province looking for housing solutions,” said Taylor. “Opening up rural and agricultural lands might not be the best, forward-thinking position.”

Taylor said county planners met with local municipal planners to go over the proposed changes and a number of concerns emerged including: land-use conflicts, road safety issues and the undermining of efforts to focus intensification and growth in urban/built-up communities with water and sewage services.

Taylor said it would be a big help if municipalities had a full understanding of the origins of the proposed policy to increase rural lot creation. He said with that information local planners could look at ways to address any concerns with current policies.

“Who was asking for these changes to agricultural lands?" Taylor asked. “We simply don’t know.”

Eccles expressed his “total frustration” at the province’s approach and pointed out that more severances didn’t equal more houses.

“The policy is creating more lots. It’s not about creating more lots. It’s about getting houses built on the lots that are sitting there,” he said.

Warden Brian Milne said the province should stop seeing municipalities as roadblocks to more housing.

“The province thinks that we municipalities are the problem. There are tons of building opportunities in our municipalities right now,” said Milne. “We share the same goal of more housing. We’re not the problem. We want to help, but (the province) has got to work with us.”

Local farmer and Ontario Federation of Agriculture member Paul Vickers attended the meeting and said the proposal to increase rural/agricultural severance is a concern for the farming community.

“More and more urban people in rural areas makes for more conflict,” said Vickers. “I think we’ll get the biggest urban sprawl in 20 years. For the long-term good of agriculture, it is unfortunate.”

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About the Author: Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Chris Fell covers The Blue Mountains and Grey Highlands under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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