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Provincial proposal on residential lot severances creates mixed discussion in Local farm community

Area politicians and farmers have mixed opinions on proposed changes on residential lot severances from Ontario farms under the Provincial Policy Planning Statement.

Earlier this year, the Ontario government introduced its new Provincial Planning Statement and Bill 97 – the Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act – aimed at reshaping urban development policy to address housing supply within the province. It aims to build 1.5 million new homes within 10 years.

One proposal involves a new “Lot Creation and Lot Adjustments” clause, which would permit the creation of up to three lot severances per farm parcel in prime agricultural areas.   The province contents that farmers want it in order to provide more housing for family and workers and to enhance succession planning.

The Bill passed and received Royal Assent in June.  Yet the province still accepted comments on the measures through the Environmental Registry until August 4.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), Christian Farmers Association of Ontario, the National Farmers Union and 11 other agricultural organizations, mainly livestock, issued a joint statement on May 18 opposing the three lot severances proposal, stating that it would “weaken farmland protection.”  The joint statement requests that the limited circumstances permitting residential lot creation in prime agricultural areas under current provincial policy be retained.

“We do not support policies that will increase residential lot creation in prime agricultural areas or in rural areas that are actively farmed,” reads the statement. “Ontario boasts some of Canada’s richest and most fertile farmland and these policies put the sustainability of that land and the food system it provides at great risk.”

Norfolk County Council sent a letter to the Environmental Registry stating that council favours only one severance per lot; they also encouraged more conversation between the province and farmers.

“Norfolk is open to the possibility of one severance; however that is a broad statement that needs some context,” wrote Mayor Amy Martin in an email. “The intent of the letter is to signal to the province not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

“I’ve been hearing that farmers want options. The market isn’t producing the same income and keeping farming in the family is becoming increasingly difficult,” wrote Martin. “I’ve heard from landowners who cannot farm on portions … that would like to see a severance. Farmers state that they were not properly consulted when some agricultural commodities spoke out against this bill and furthermore, they represent the wishes of livestock farmers, not produce.”

Larry Davis, the OFA representative for Brant-Haldimand-Norfolk, said that potential conflicts between farmers and non-farming neighbours living on severed lots exist for both livestock and cash crop farms.

“It involves more than the Minimum Distance Separation (the formula allowing distances between residences and livestock expansions), said Davis. “Conflict is not just from livestock, but also drift from cash crop operations.”

Historically, residential lots severed from existing operations often fail to remain within the family, thus fragmenting the agricultural land base, said Davis.  “If approved, the potential three lots per farm could create strung-out housing developments down otherwise rural roads, eventually requiring reduced speed limits.”

Davis suggested that the province could consider allowing an extra home that is not severed from the operation for farms needing an additional residence.

Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Bobbi Ann Brady favours the “idea of one additional lot severance” on the condition that such decisions are downloaded upon local municipalities.

Brady stated this idea in an August 3 letter to the Premier and Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Lisa Thompson and Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark. 

Brady, an Independent MPP, based her brief upon feedback from a town hall meeting she held in June.

That meeting revealed Brady’s riding has what she called “two very different sets of farmers in two very different counties.”

“It was clear that a consensus could not be reached, other than perhaps the province should be looking into a process that gives municipalities discretion to make decisions on lot swaps, severances …. Municipalities are better suited to make these decisions as they understand the needs of their farmers and have a greater understanding of geographic factors that may make land suitable or unsuitable,” Brady wrote.

“Changing the entire province with the same brush is not the way to go,” said Brady. “I don’t believe that one-size-fits-all even works in Norfolk. And Norfolk and Haldimand farmers farm under different conditions.”

Brady previously voted against Bill 97 because the comment period was still open and it was unclear how the final regulations would look like.  A Private Member’s Bill that she submitted on farmland protection - The Farmland and Arable Land Strategy Act – was also voted down despite unanimous support from the opposition parties.

The bill is currently in Cabinet’s hands.

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