ARTHUR ‒ Wellington North council has maintained their stance that residential dwellings don’t belong on prime agricultural lands.
Monday council denied an application for a minimum distance separation setback that would have allowed Elgin and Joan Craig, owners of Red Maple Land Co., to build a residential dwelling on 7.4 acres of vacant land fronting Sideroad 10 West.
While the Craig’s argue 144 acres would have been retained for its existing structures and ongoing agricultural use, council voted 4:1 in opposition to the proposal for fear a neighbouring swine farm would be limited in its future growth.
“We did talk extensively in our last meeting about the problem with rural severances and how they can infringe on livestock operations,” said Mayor Andy Lennox. “I really struggle to support this because of the context of it.”
During the meeting, Elgin explained that while the family “considered building on another property,” the land seemed more suited to agriculture than that at 8648 Highway 6 and that he worries about saddling his children with a second mortgage on their property if something were to happen to him or his wife.
“It's very hard to ask young people to come in and purchase (acres of land) in that corner at today's prices,” said Elgin. “We would never recoup the money invested into that dwelling, it'll cost us a minimum of a million dollars.”
While the Wellington County Land Division Committee ultimately provided conditional approval for the residential severance in November 2022, the issue needed to return to the regular council for approval of a reduced minimum distance separation setback.
“Mom and dad have overseen their farm with devout care and stewardship for decades. They are up before dawn kind of farmers, work until late kind of farmers,” said their son, James Craig, who lives on a neighbouring farm, in a previous letter to the committee. “Now myself, my sister, and our respective families strive to carry forward the family farming tradition.”
However, Coun. Sherry Burke, who was absent when the application originally came to council in October 2022, didn’t feel this was a minor variance as the report suggested.
“I can't help but go back to some of the conversations that we had at the last council meeting with regards to agricultural land,” said Burke. “I wonder how this will impact the agricultural community around it.”
During October's meeting, Coun. Lisa Hern argued that basing all the town’s decisions on whether the land can grow crops is detrimental to livestock operations.
“Getting back to the prime ag component of this, I’m not sure that it’s for anyone to say whether it can be farmed or not,” said Hern. “Whether it can be cropped is a whole other matter…it’s still useful for agriculture.”
However, Elgin claims that he’s spoken to several properties including the owner of the neighbouring swine farm and that he’s heard no objections outside of council chambers.
“This application is a key part to our family farm’s succession plan,” said James, in the letter. “While duties and chores will transition to my generation over time, the close proximity is important so that these farmers can continue to participate and provide guidance and wisdom we need for a successful family and farm.”
During Monday’s meeting, Coun. Steve McCabe was the only councillor that argued this was “the best way” to use the land.
“(The land has) sat empty since about 80’s,” said McCabe. “It's nice to see that it's going to be used for your long and well-deserved retirement.”
According to Elgin, there is less than one acre of prime agriculture on the property and it “can’t even grow trees,” a sentiment maintained by McCabe in October.
“There's a lot of hypotheticals about what will happen in the future but we're dealing with the present,” said Elgin. “I think it's important that we keep farmers on the farm and for our generation to help because…you can't ask the new generation to come in and assume all the liabilities.”
The Craig's can appeal council's choice 20 days after notice of the decision.
Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.