Province’s housing plans spark concern

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Blake Ellis &Heather Wright

Local Journalism Initiative & The Independent

There are growing concerns in rural Lambton about the province’s demands for the size of farms and the ability to sever lots for housing.

In the last six months, the Ford government has introduced massive changes to land planning use in Ontario. The Build More Homes Faster Act upended the role of the conservation authorities in planning and cut out much of the public’s opportunity to have a say on new developments in their neighbourhoods. Bill 97 according to Ken Melanson, manager of planning for Lambton County, allows up to three units of housing on lots – using basements and the second storeys of garages for example. It also suggests up to three residential lots could be severed from agriculture land, as long as servicing was available.

Melanson, in an explanation about the changes, worries that could cause conflict as people move into rural areas not understanding the sights, sounds and smells that go with farming. Lambton hasn’t calculated how many new housing lots could be created this way, but nearby Middlesex has the potential to have 21,000 new lots.

At Enniskillen council, Mayor Kevin Marriott said not every farmer would want to sever lots from their land. But in Dawn-Euphemia, Mayor Al Broad suggested it was needed to help the municipality increase its tax base. 

“Our county is still dead against rural severances,” Broad said. “We need severances to make our community thrive.”

As the province changes legislation in the hopes of building 1.5 million homes in 10 years, it is also suggesting changes to the Provincial Policy Statement – the guidelines all municipalities must follow as they plan for growth. 

The changes would allow urban municipalities to easily expand their boundaries for housing and would stop municipalities from creating more restrictive policies than the province. That could stop the move by some municipalities, including Dawn-Euphemia and Brooke-Alvinston, from successfully getting smaller farm plot sizes acknowledged. The provincial policy states a farm lot should be 38 hectares (100 acres), but in communities like Dawn-Euphemia and Brooke-Alvinston, many of the farm lots are 50 acres.

Brooke-Alvinston Councillor Don McCabe says there is no reason the province should not continue to allow farmers to buy smaller plots of land.  “I would like to ask for further information from the county of Lambton on where and when 38 hectares was determined to be the minimum size,” he asked at the May 11 council meeting.

The provincial policy says the 38 hectares plot is economically viable, but McCabe says a farm as small as an acre can be economically viable depending on the type of crop which is planted.

Both Broad and McCabe plan to push the case at county council.

Meantime, Melanson says councillors have until June to comment on the proposed changes to provincial policy. He recommends they don’t make a comment since the province has yet to set out any rules on how to deal with wetlands and the natural heritage issues.