A group of concerned landowners, who could be restricted from using their property because of the proposed Lambton County Official Plan, are preparing for a court battle.
For the past five years, the county has been revising the document which is the guide to land use in the region. It has been controversial for farmers concerned the county’s document wants to expand the number of wetlands and woodlands giving them less area to farm.
Elizabeth Davis Dagg has been talking to municipal governments about her concerns. She speaks for a group called Concerned Landowners’ Legal Defence Fund.
She says there are a “whole bunch of expanded naturally sensitive areas.” While some of the ideas have been in the last official plan, Davis Dagg says the new draft’s goal is to expand them and that worries landowners.
“The plan’s projections to increase woodlands, wetlands, primary and secondary corridors, vegetated buffer strips and wildlife habitat will necessitate that private land must be surrendered because there are no additional public lands available on which to achieve these objectives,” she wrote in an email urging people to get involved.
Davis Dagg is concerned landowners will also be forced to do expensive studies if they wish to build on their properties.
She’s also concerned landowners have not been aware of the process and feel like it is being “slipped past them.”
The former Lambton Shores mayor was gathering signatures to add to a letter she is sending to Lambton County councillors for their Feb. 1 meeting. Council was expected to approve the draft official plan after five years of work. However, it appears it may now be April before that happens.
Lambton County Warden Bill Weber, who heads the group reviewing the draft, says it hasn’t completed the review of the document yet and will need more time.
And he disputes that landowners haven’t had a say. “The process has been very open and it has been a very long process,” he says. “Notification has gone out. There have been several public meetings. Comments from the public meetings have been incorporated into the latest version which is on the county website.”
The committee recently removed a map which showed natural heritage corridors. Davis Dagg worried they would limit farmers ability to use their land.
Weber says the map showed voluntary corridors which “took no land out of production and made no one change farming practises.”
Weber says there is a lot of information circulating and not all of it is current. “I would suggest people get the latest version, with all the adjustments and changes put through by staff…and read that latest version…there have been a lot of changes and adjustments that have already addressed the concerns out in the public.”
For her part, Davis Dagg just wants to make sure the county gets its plan right. And if it doesn’t she wants to be prepared.
Davis Dagg signed up 400 people to her letter of concern. She says if legal action needs to be taken to stop the plan, there is a group of unnamed people prepared to support it financially. If the draft plan is challenged it would be at the Ontario Municipal Board.
“It’s very difficult when you have such a large document and there are so many different concerns to address,” she says.
“The problem is the county official plan will guide all the municipal plans so we really have to get it right… we wanted county council to know we take it very seriously.”