Eleventh hour shakeup for SD&G Official Plan; Rural-Ag landowners could be affected

(Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

SD&G – If you own agricultural or rural designated land in SD&G, a shock may be coming down the pike from the Ontario government you may not even be told about.

The United Counties spent resources this year updating its Official Plan (OP) – the resource document for all land use in Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry. It held a half dozen public meetings, two official public meetings at council and specialized local meetings with local Federations of Agriculture.

But now, SD&G Manager of Planning, Alison McDonald, told council this morning (Monday) the province had told them during “informal conversations” that is has “significant changes” of its own in store for rural and agricultural land designations in the county.

Adding to the confusion and concern – the province hasn’t provided the county with a list of affected properties, McDonald added.

The formal designation would, in turn, change the zoning of a property. While it wouldn’t affect municipal taxes, it would change whether people can divide or sever their property to create new lots and whether they can build additional homes on the land.

“The ministry is trying to meet their timelines under the Planning Act but, as a result of the length of their review, we’ve been left with only a week to actually review the draft decision. We’ve focused on main objections,” McDonald said.

The designations are the biggest among a half dozen major objections to the Official Plan modifications that have been kicked back to the United Counties from the province. The other major objection is the designated minimum agricultural lot size of 40 hectares (99 acres).

While the lot size wouldn’t affect places like North Dundas where the minimum is 96 acres, it would be problematic for townships like South Stormont where the minimum is 48 acres – about half the size. The type of agricultural operations are different based on areas of SD&G – South Stormont more akin to smaller farms, like goat farming, while North Dundas is larger farms and cash cropping.

The planner said the OP landed on her desk Tuesday morning (Dec. 12) and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing staff will send the final document to the minister for approval on Dec. 20. “The time is so limited…it’s unbelievable.”

“They (landowners) could appeal it if they knew about it. But the problem we identified is that they will not be notified. We can’t notify them because we also don’t know who it is. So that’s why we’ve asked the ministry to notify anyone whose properties get changed in designation or zoning and then, if they’re unhappy with that change, they could exercise their right to appeal,” she said.

“It’s crucial that they be notified of it and that’s the piece that’s missing,” McDonald said.

The province is also moving toward closing opportunities for appeals, whether they be from landowners or municipalities.

The county is already pushing back with a formal objection, which is being sent to the Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing Ministry today (Monday).

The news could spell trouble for places like Myers Road, where a proposed split between rural and agricultural properties was taken out of the Official Plan by the county.

“We’ll get through it,” Coun. Eric Duncan told CNW. “Process always bothers me in terms of an iron fist from an upper level of government. We’ve gone through a public process…so it frustrates me when they pull out a study or don’t do a study and unilaterally rule over that,” Duncan said.

“This defeats the purpose of going through a democratic, open, public process and then at the end somebody having a trump card and playing it. I just don’t think the public gets a confidence from the process being that way. It’s not really fair, frankly,” he said.

“I’m optimistic. Maybe it won’t be as bad but the opportunity for it to be bad is what frustrates me.”

A report for today’s council meeting notes MMAH staff were invited to come to the council meeting. There was nobody there from the ministry.

SD&G has approximately 36,000 acres of agricultural land that were reviewed as part of the plan. The region has far more than that.