At least one member of Bruce County Council’s planning committee, Mark Goetz, mayor of South Bruce, wants to ensure the county’s concerns about the potential negative impact on agriculture, of Bill 97 – unless substantial changes are made to the draft Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) released April 6.

After listening to Warden and Brockton Mayor Chris Peabody’s comments that Bill 97 is all about houses – and has nothing about affordable housing – Goetz weighed in on the parts of the proposed Bill 97 that would impact agriculture. 

Goetz said, “It doesn’t address the crisis with housing but what I’m seeing here today could cause a number of other crises. I’m wondering if there’s an appetite here … I find it real frustrating that the Minister of Agriculture, who resides in my municipality, would support something like this that could have such a negative effect on agriculture. And I think that, aside from the Provincial Policy Statement, I feel that we need to make a statement here as a county, possibly in a resolution that could be forwarded on to other counties around the province, to ensure our concerns are heard, and possibly supported.”

Council announced its intent to have a resolution brought forward with comments on Bill 97, at the May 18 meeting.

In response to a question from Peabody, Claire Dodds, director of planning and development, confirmed the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, has commented on the draft Bill 97.

CAO Derrick Thomson suggested that when the county makes its written response to the province on Bill 97, it be included as a general resolution and be sent out through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and to all counties and municipalities so that “everybody can see what Bruce County’s comments are on this particularly policy statement.”

Deadline for comments is June 5.

The timing of the province’s draft PPS, released April 6, caught the attention of Bruce County, even before details had been discussed. Bruce is – or rather, was – in the final stages of completing its new Official Plan (OP). Now that plan is on hold.

Also of concern is the lack, to date, of provincial direction regarding Natural Heritage, which has been removed from the PPS and will be posted under a separate ERO (Environmental Registry of Ontario).

The county had intended to hold final public consultations on the OP this summer, with the goal of passing the OP this fall. However, the draft PPS is scheduled to be implemented this fall, and Dodds said that to finalize the OP before the PPS “would create confusion.” That probably shifts the timeline for passing the OP into 2024.

The draft Bill 97 and its impacts on agriculture, housing, and the county’s OP, were discussed during a planning committee meeting May 11.

Planning consultant Robert Rappolt, county planner Monica Walker Bolton and the county’s manager of land use planning Jack Van Dorp presented a detailed analysis of Bill 97: Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act, 2023.

In a general overview, Rappolt said it is a consolidation of two items, the province’s A Place to Grow, which involved the Greater Golden Horseshoe area, and the current Provincial Policy Statement 2020.

He told the committee the apparent intent of the new document is to “create additional flexibility for municipal growth.”

The White Paper on Bill 97 states the proposed changes “are part of an ongoing series of changes to the planning system … as part of the Ontario Government’s More Homes, More Choice Housing Supply Action Initiative.”

The intent is to “generate an appropriate housing supply, make land available for development, provide infrastructure to support development, and balance housing with resources.”

County Coun. Kenneth Craig, Kincardine, commented, “The PPS was always about wise growth … the intent has changed.”

Dodds noted the county’s comments “will highlight some imbalances.”

Discussion involved the creation of Rappolt called a “more nimble” approvals process that will create greater opportunities for rural development.

And therein lies a problem for a county where agriculture is a key industry.

As stated in the White Paper, up to three new lots could be created in prime agricultural areas. Removal of prime agricultural lands would only be permitted for the expansion of a settlement area, but this would no longer require a comprehensive review. Settlement areas are still the growth focus, said Rappolt.

The new policy would permit up to two additional residential units on farm properties, with certain conditions, including that they must be attached to or near the principal dwelling, and that they not hinder surrounding agricultural operations.

Goetz commented that “it looks like back to the 70s.” 

Dodds said, “Staff is flagging that one.”

Walker Bolton spoke about the potential loss of prime agricultural land. With 4,900 parcels potentially having three severances, it could mean a possible loss of almost 30,000 acres of prime agricultural land.

Goetz again made a comment, that decision makers should be reminded “food doesn’t grow on store shelves.”

County Coun. Luke Charbonneau said, “The province is a funny beast … this council passed a few agricultural severances here and there and the province fought us tooth and nail on every one of those … and now they’re going to allow … new residential lots in prime agricultural parts of the county … It gives you whiplash.”

Charbonneau went on to say that while much of the document impresses him, because it seems to be localizing decision making, this section does the opposite. He’d prefer to see agricultural area severances, too, be subject to local decision making.

Charbonneau said it appears not only would the province allow three severances, but two additional dwelling units on each … for a total of nine.

Dodds said the county is requesting clarity from the province on this one, since there seem to be some contradictions. However, she said there appears to be a change in focus, to channel growth into rural areas, including prime agricultural areas.

Charbonneau said he thinks the proposed changes take things too far. The number of possible new lots and new families in agricultural areas “will hinder agriculture,” he said. 

County Coun. Milt McIver added his comments. “I thought we were in a good place in regards to farm severances now … I strongly object to this.”

Jennifer Shaw, Arran-Elderslie’s deputy mayor, questioned what would happen if the number of new families that would be allowed in rural areas, were concentrated in urban areas, from a human services perspective. “We have a transit study we’re looking at … transit typically doesn’t run down the back roads.” She stressed the need for population growth in settlement areas. “This … isn’t efficient at all.”

Goetz quipped, “We’d probably have to redefine backyard chickens … with this, every chicken barn would be in a backyard.”

In conclusion, Peabody commented that Bill 97 “seems to have flown under the radar,” while Bill 23 got all the attention. However, Bill 97 marks a “huge shift … taking us back to the ‘70s, back to the ‘60s in term of planning regulations.”

He said he hopes to see Bruce County become a leader in advocating for the flexibility and positive things in Bill 97, but also “critiquing and bringing change to this legislation on the negative things that council has identified, with the help of our staff.”

By Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 19, 2023 at 07:00

This item reprinted with permission from   The Herald-Times   Walkerton, Ontario
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