Original Published on Jul 06, 2022 at 08:45

By Connie Tabbert, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Public meeting shows concern about expanding residential and commercial zone near Cobden

Cobden – As Whitewater Region council considers rezoning land from outside Cobden from rural to commercial and residential, there has been an outcry of concern about the impact on the local farming community.

A public meeting held recently showed there is concern among local farmers about how the redesignation of other properties would affect their properties and it was clear even all members of council aren’t keen on rezoning the land outside Cobden.

Councillor Dave Mackay, who is opposed to the zoning changes, said he wasn’t in favour of letting farmland disappear.

 “I belong to the Ontario Farmland Conservatory, and we are losing 175 acres a day,” he said. “I’m not letting that go.”

Council is considering changing strips of rural zoned areas east and west of Cobden on Highway 17 to accommodate increased commercial and residential development. Chief Administrative Officer Robert Tremblay told council last Tuesday to be in compliance with the County of Renfrew Official Plan for an increase in the settlement area of Cobden, the municipality requires an amendment to the Official Plan. This would allow for a proposed subdivision on the eastern edge of the village known as Bennett Meadows.

To accomplish this, properties on the east and western edges of the township will be rezoned to commercial to allow for employment growth and a farm currently within the settlement area will be redesignated.

At the public meeting several people expressed their options, with the majority of those speaking opposed to the changes. Jim Munroe, whose family has farmed since the turn-of-the-century on the western edge of Cobden, is opposed to the rezoning.

He fears a strip of land designated commercial would negatively impact his family continuing to farm. 

“The thing that concerns me are the by-laws associated with commercial property,” he said.

He fears he may be forced to change the entrances to his property, like a neighbour had to do further down the road, or that he may not be able to bring hay that he has cut across the road, which he has been doing for years.

Mr. Munroe said he understands commercial areas are required but is hopeful it won’t be to the detriment of farming in the community. While council may not be aware, there is a farming community on the edge of Cobden, he said.

“You should come by in harvest time when the McLeod farm is going, the dust is flying, they’re combining corn and beans,” he said. “They have tractors that wouldn’t fit into this room. They are legitimate farming operations.”

Donna Burns questioned council’s long-range vision, which she fears is pandering to the provincial government to construct affordable housing, which will then have to be managed and controlled by the municipality.

Mr. Tremblay waylaid that fear when he explained the municipality is not responsible for housing and is not in the housing business.

When questioned by Ms. Burns if the township owns the property it is seeking to change the zoning on, Planner Ivan Burton said they are privately held properties. The settlement area of Cobden cannot increase, but zonings can be changed, which would mean a larger settlement area than it currently has but without a larger land mass, he explained. The current use of the lands would remain until a property owner requests a designated change, he added.

Ms. Burns also noted it is unfair council to hold a public meeting when people are either working or eating dinner and in a location that is not suited for large gatherings.

“I don’t think holding a public meeting where you can only accommodate 30 people at the most, and not being transparent about what is going on,” she said. “You are not explaining terms. You are creating a new language. Village community in the Official Plan is not a legislated term for a designation. It’s not in the Planning Act.”

Bruce Howarth, manager of Planning Services for the County of Renfrew, said, said he was familiar with the concerns brought up. 

“We can designate private lands,” he said. “The amendment council is considering is under your jurisdiction of the Planning Act and it is the municipality’s responsibility to plan for future development within the township.

“The application you have in front of you is a proposal that the township asked the county to consider. Yes, it does affect private land, but it’s so the township can plan for growth,” he explained. “It doesn’t mean the lands have to be acquired or developed right away. It’s a plan for the future saying this is how we think growth should happen in the community.”

Margaret McLeod admitted she is not familiar with the Official Plan but questioned why the property owners were not consulted prior to the redesignation, which may have alleviated many costs associated with the public meeting.

Mark Briscoe was also upset.

“You can’t just come up and change our land,” he said, adding he was speaking for other property owners who don’t want to stand up and be accountable.

He also suggested the redesignation be done in the future when the lands are required for employment purposes.

“I disagree you get to designate my land,” he said.

Heather McLeod said she was looking forward to growth in Cobden, adding the population has been at 1,000 since she was born. However, she had concerns.

“I’m sitting here speaking on behalf of our family farm,” she said. “Dad (Graham) was well-known in Ontario and Quebec and the region and a lot of you are farmers. I am a farmer by blood and I want to keep it as farming. I do not want commercial.

“If McDonald’s want to come and buy some of my land, we’ll talk then,” she added. “At this point, my wishes are to keep it agricultural 100 percent.”

 Gerry Paxton, representing Cobden Pentecostal Church at the corner of Astrolabe Road and Hwy. 17, said the church is looking to construct a three-story apartment building with 36 units.

“I’ve been in the development game myself,” he said. “And designation of property that you are talking about makes that property more valuable.”

The next steps will be for staff from the county, township, applicant and Ministry of Transportation to discuss comments from the public and make further adjustments or recommendations.

This item is reprinted with permission from The Leader, Eganville, Ontario