Severance request meets stiff opposition from some Huron County councillors

HURON COUNTY – Applications to sever land is a regular agenda item at many council meetings; most either get approved or denied, but on Sept. 6 at the regular Huron County council meeting, one particular application met some pretty stiff opposition from several councillors.

The purpose of this particular application was to sever a surplus farm residence in Ashfield-Colbourne-Wawanosh (ACW).

According to the report from Huron County Planner Celina Whaling-Rae, the proposed severed parcel is 2.2 hectares (5.5 acres) in size and contains a residence and two sheds. The proposed retained parcel is 37.4 hectares (92.5 acres) if corresponding consent file C32-2023 is finalized and is vacant farmland. 

“The department is recommending approval of the application with conditions, including a condition requiring the severed parcel to be reduced in size to 0.6 hectares (1.5 acres),” stated Whaling-Rae’s report.

Whaling-Rae indicated that ACW council recommended approving the application, and that no comments had been made by the public either for or against the severance.

ACW Deputy Mayor Bill Vanstone began the conversation by saying, “I see that it’s good for the seller, as well as the buyer because the buyer would like this extra land to maybe put a horse and some grass and some things on it. The owner previously has tried to go in and try to farm that little area, which is really, with the big equipment and stuff, not very good. And it’s not great land there anyways, as far as for farming. So that’s why we looked at doing this.

“And as I’ve always said, I think your local municipality, when you go out and walk the area and look at it, they should have some input on this.”

The debate began after the presentation, and recommendations were presented, with several councillors bringing up their concerns with the severance.

“I’ve certainly always believed that the local municipalities opinion weighed heavily on the direction that these votes should go,” said Past Warden Bernie MacLellan. “And I understand the comment about the fact that it may not be the greatest farmland, but I am concerned also, does this set some sort of precedent because we’ve had other people that have wanted to have an extra three or four acres and county council has pushed back pretty hard saying that we shouldn’t be taking that out of farmland. Are we setting a bad precedent by going ahead with something like this?”

Vanstone responded to this inquiry, saying, “It’s an Amish person who is buying it. It will be farmed, not to the extent where a big combine or a machine will be going in there, but it will be looked after probably better than what it is right now as far as being active to the community. So hopefully everybody endorses this.”

Coun. Alvin McClellan (Huron East) got in on the conversation, agreeing with MacLellan.

“I just think sooner or later, we’ve got to stop dividing up little pieces of land,” he said. “And I do agree with Coun. Vanstone saying that it may be looked after now. But what’s the next owner going to do with it? Is it just going to grow up in grass where if it was left with the farm parcel, it would be farmed. So I can support the county’s position. I can’t (support) ACW.”

Coun. Paul Klopp also chimed in, saying, “To the comments about what happens down the road? I don’t think that’s an issue. If we’re trying to talk about properties in the country that maybe grow some trees or, heaven forbid, grow grass. According to all of us, we spend a lot of money talking about the environment and trying to keep places in grass.”

Klopp further commented that since the proposed buyer is Amish, “I’m going to take a leap of faith and assume he uses a horse as his form of transportation, and that the shed and land will be used as a base for the horse.

“He is going to produce his hay; it’s his feed for the purpose of getting around the country. That’s not a bad thing,” he said.

“And to the point of setting a precedent. That’s our job – every time we make a decision here, we’re setting a precedent. We all take every application on its merit. On the merit of this one and the local council, it is still the right thing to do to support its decision.”

Coun. Doug Harding supported the motion on the floor, saying, “I just like to support the other councillors Klopp and Vanstone in their opinion on this. Having a lot of interaction with Mennonite and Amish communities, this land will be better looked after this way than it will be elsewise. I’m supporting ACW in this.”

Past Warden Jim Ginn weighed in with his comments, saying, “I struggle with this one a bit. It certainly flies in the face of our policies, which are the creation of separate properties for houses. Our policy does not encourage the development of small farms, it’s to keep owners from having to be landlords.”

Ginn suggested that the proposed new owner investigate perhaps just renting the strip of land from the current owner, saying it isn’t mandatory for him to own it.

“I don’t think it’s up to us,” added Ginn, “Our policy says keep the loss of agricultural land to the minimum. So I really do struggle with this when I know there’s been many times we’ve made bigger parcels, but it’s usually because of the geography of the land and the tree lines and, you know, drainages, but this is taking agricultural land out of production in my eyes.”

Councillors first voted on the amended application, which included a provision to reduce some of the proposed severance. The report said, “The severed parcel be reduced to the orientation provided in Figure 7 with a maximum area of 1.5 acres (0.6 hectares), containing the residence, septic system, well and sheds.”

There was not a recorded vote, but the motion was defeated.

Councillors then voted on the original severance, which took out the provision noted above, and this motion was also defeated.

Several councillors expressed their desire to visit the property in person or be provided with better photos of the land, as it was mentioned several times that the slope to the ravine on the ground was indeed not conducive for farming with big machinery.

Ginn stated that he might change his mind if he visited the land and saw firsthand what the planner tried to describe, which brought a chuckle from the warden.

McNeil added, “Usually with close votes, it is lack of information or understanding of the information. So I think that’s a very applicable action.”

In the end, councillors voted to defer the motion until such visits and photos could be arranged, sending the planner and staff back to the drawing board to provide more information and clarity to the application.

By Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Sep 15, 2023 at 07:05

This item reprinted with permission from   Advance Times   Wingham, Ontario
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