Nation Valley News
WINCHESTER — North Dundas Mayor Tony Fraser and his council colleagues wasted little time last night distancing themselves from a controversial planning department proposal that would upsize the minimum acreage needed to keep livestock and engage in “agriculture” in the former Mountain Township area. They deferred any decision during the special Zoom session until the matter can be discussed during an in-person public meeting at some future date.
Planning Director Calvin Pol proposed the change — increasing the required land size from five to 20 acres to match the rule in the former Winchester Township — as part of a “housekeeping amendment” that aims to streamline a hodgepodge of outstanding zoning bylaw matters. Pol, whose report recommended that council pass the changes as-is, noted that existing small-farm situations would be “essentially grandfathered.”
The province actually wanted the minimum farm size set at 40 acres in the SD&G Official Plan, he explained, but backed off and allowed individual townships within SD&G to establish a size “common to uses in the area” as well as “sufficiently large to maintain flexibility for future changes in operation.”
On a related topic, the proposed amendment includes recognition of both agricultural and rural land designations within the former Mountain Township, where only rural currently applies, as part of an expected Official Plan appeal settlement. The former Winchester Township already has both of those designations.
In response to one of several submitted comments, Pol said he was open to exploring the idea of allowing livestock based on animal nutrient units rather than a minimum lot size. “I think it might be doable,” he said.
In a pandemic era that has seen the increasing embrace of highly localized food production and the rise of the backyard urban chicken, the idea of boosting the amount of land required to keep animals or run a farm business proved controversial on social media prior to the North Dundas session.
“I hope this puts some people at ease,” said Fraser after Pol’s presentation, then informing viewers he wanted the township to conduct an open house event for further discussion on the topic, adding that staff would consult with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Dundas Federation of Agriculture and members of the public in advance of the upcoming confab. Ministry and Counties staff would also be invited to take part.
“I am desirous of this being an open, fulsome meeting. We want to make sure we get this right,” said Fraser.
Deputy Mayor Al Armstrong said it was always his intention to see the matter deferred. “No one intended to pass this portion [tonight],” said Armstrong, who pointed out that council has been dealing with streamlining various bylaws inherited from the former townships since amalgamation created North Dundas in 1998. “Over the course of time … this bylaw has been in place in Mountain Township since 1979. Winchester Township’s has been in place since 1993 … It has been discussed, in one form or other through multiple councils, and not one council has changed it.
“And I don’t think this council was ever intending to change it to 20 acres, either,” he said, adding, however, that it was time to investigate the bylaw given the evident public concern and comments. He said it might be appropriate for North Dundas to consolidate the policy at the lower number — five acres — instead of 20, acknowledging a suggestion that came from the public.
The township, the deputy mayor added, proved itself capable of working with the agricultural community as it did when developing a new fire management bylaw.
“I agree. I think this should go to a public meeting,” said Councillor John Thompson. “It wasn’t my intention to pass it, either. The reason the recommendation came through was to standardize. And that’s what it was, a recommendation.”
Among the public speaking up during the session was a hobby farmer who clashed with the township last year over the animals and buildings on her small Mountain Township property. “With some of the things that I had to deal with last year, with this [idea of] grandfathering … How would you as a township let people know who’s grandfathered in and who’s not? … That might be a harder thing to know,” observed Christina Suffel. “Also if people have to repair buildings and stuff, in my experience, moving back to my original homestead, I wasn’t able to do anything here that had previously been done here. I’m just afraid it might happen to other people,” she said, expressing thanks to council for planning another meeting.