by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Differing views about the handling of surplus farmhouse severances is causing such a rift between PerthCounty
municipalities that two of them are taking the issue to the Ontario Municipal Board.
Last month, the Municipality
of West Perth
and the Township
of Perth South
of plans to involve the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) in the issue. The board is a provincial tribunal that hears applications and appeals about planning, development and municipal issues. No date has been set for a hearing.
The two local councils want the county to permit property severances in their jurisdictions, allowing surplus farmhouses to be sold as residential properties. County council defeated their proposal in December.
John Van Bakel, mayor of West Perth and a beef farmer, says his municipality wants the severances to preserve its population base. “When you lose population, you lose a lot more than just assessment” revenue he says; citing the threat to rural schools, local stores and paved roads.
The average size of farms is increasing and he estimates there are 50-75 surplus farmhouses in his municipality. He predicts the trend will continue. Property owners’ current options are to rent, abandon or demolish the houses.
He says West Perth surveyed neighbouring municipalities and found that all allow some form of severance for surplus farmhouses.
Ron McKay, mayor of Perth South, population 4,200, says his municipality loses one per cent of its population a year - one of the highest attrition rates in Ontario
Not everyone on West Perth Council wants to go this route. Barb MacLean, a West Perth
councillor and former county warden, says such severances have the potential to pit neighbour against neighbour.
MacLean, a dairy farmer, says modern farming methods may cause discomfort for non-farming neighbours.
Timing the application of the newer methods are often beyond the farmer’s control, she says, using the example of custom manure spreading services on her own family’s 500-acre, 60-milking cow operation.
“They (custom spreaders) might come in here at 11 p.m. and set up; they could do it on a Saturday,” she explains. “If you have somebody from the city living there and they want to have a barbecue and their friends in on a Saturday . . . that’s not very good neighbourhood relations.”
MacLean also notes that the motion presented to Perth County council was different from earlier proposals and would have permitted the severance of uninhabited farmhouses. That would pave the way for the houses to be knocked down to form new building lots.
“We have all kinds of land for new houses to be built in our subdivisions,” she says. “There’s no shortage of land – we’ve got land in town (Mitchell) for sale.”
MacLean says she’s concerned the issue is dividing the county. If West Perth
and Perth South win their case at the OMB, policies will be different across the member municipalities. That “weakens the county.”
The Perth County Federation of Agriculture objects to the severances because of their potential to exacerbate urban and rural conflicts, says president Bert Vostenbosch.
Of major concern is the issue’s divisiveness, he adds: “The next thing you know our county is going to get split in two.” Vostenbosch notes that his son sits on West Perth
McKay agrees the issue is divisive. “But it’s just a situation where we feel it’s important enough to us, we have to try.” BF