Debating proposed land use restrictions

Proposed county plan aims to balance needs of the farming community with desire to protect the environment

by Jim Algie

A proposed natural heritage plan for Grey County appears to have avoided the landowner hostility that greeted a proposal, subsequently withdrawn, for expanded controls in some areas by the provincially-appointed Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC).

“We definitely heard comments from farmers and from landowners,” Randy Scherzer, Grey County planning director, said in an interview about the county’s proposed “Green in Grey” plan, which is part of a current Official Plan review. Grey is among many rural municipalities within the Lake Huron and Lake Ontario watersheds to undertake natural heritage planning required by a 2014 provincial directive.

Some farmers in nearby Huron County have expressed concern about new oversight and unnecessary regulations. Similarly, the NEC plan was greeted with widespread objections from landowners and municipalities. The commission had sought to add to its planning area as part of a current, provincially-managed review of land use regulations amid rapid population growth centred in Toronto.

In a November statement about the withdrawn plan, NEC chair Don Scott told the Owen Sound Sun Times that commissioners “decided that it needed further study.” An NEC proposal to boost its planning area by 23 per cent was part of a provincially-coordinated land-use planning review for southern Ontario.

“Especially in the Grey County area, and a bit in Dufferin, there was quite a bit of negative feedback,” Scott told the Sun Times. He blamed tight deadlines for the province’s process and a general lack of public information about the NEC proposal.

For their part, Grey planners hope to present final recommendations by year end to identify the county’s abundant natural areas and “linkage” areas as required by the province’s statement of interest. The Grey plan emphasizes agriculture as “a permitted use” both within core and linking areas, Scherzer said.

“The number one concern we heard from farmers and landowners was to make sure that whatever is being recommended is not going to prevent us from continuing our agricultural operations,” Scherzer said. “That’s been built in to the policies based on what we heard.”

County council directions to planners emphasize the need for “a balanced approach of protecting our environment but also to continue to provide those opportunities like agriculture, resource-based uses, also tourism uses,” Scherzer said.

Reaction to the now-withdrawn NEC proposal provided Grey County officials with “a bit of a learning experience,” Scherzer said. As a result, the county managed its communication approaches to landowners “so they can understand why it’s important for them to be involved,” he said.

“That was a key message – we urged the need to protect our environment in Grey County but we also recognize that we have a working landscape in our rural area,” Scherzer said. BF

combining wheat near stream

    Photo credit: steverts/iStock/Getty Images Plus photo

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