Jeff Heuchert, Stratford Gazette
A little over one year after successfully defending its position on farmhouse severances to the Ontario Municipal Board, the contentious issue was back before Perth County council last week.
But time appeared to have done little to change anyone’s opinion – and the majority of councillors agreed with the county’s planning department that creating a residential lot in a rural area was not an appropriate use of agricultural land.
In doing so, they turned down an official plan amendment application submitted by Metaxas and Sherry Makedos, who wished to sever 40 acres of their Perth East property and sell the parcel to the abutting landowner to be farmed, while retaining the 10-acre portion containing their house and a woodlot.
The county’s official plan prohibits the severance of lots for residential use on land with an agriculture designation, including the creation of new non-farm related lots and the severance of existing and surplus dwellings.
In a brief presentation to council, Metaxas explained he and his wife are not farmers, but settled on the property at the corner of Line 29 and Road 109 northwest of Tavistock after a two-year search for a country property with a woodlot. Given their lack of farming experience, and that the 40 acres carries little value on its own, the proposal was reasonable and a positive for the farming community, he argued.
But Coun. Rhonda Ehgoetz disagreed that a 40-acre parcel is not viable, and added the family should have purchased a smaller property if they did not want to own the entire 50 acres. She said she was not in favour of creating an estate lot and warned allowing a landowner to part with agricultural land would set a dangerous precedent.
“Once you open the door to allow this severance to take place, they’re going to come out of the woodwork. There are a lot around the county who want to do this,” she added.
Likewise, Coun. Bob McMillan, who described himself as an “unequivocal supporter of agriculture,” said the detrimental effects of having a residential use in the countryside were unacceptable.
One of two councillors to support the idea, Coun. Bill French said the application made “excellent common sense” given the land would be joining an abutting property. He added despite the county’s stance on farmhouse severances, he believes each application before council should be considered on its own merits.
“One paint brush for the whole county, I don’t think is good,” he said.
Part of the discussion prior to council’s decision centered around whether the application constitutes a surplus farmhouse severance – the specific issue the county fought successfully to prevent at the OMB.
The applicants and their agents argued it was not, and that the proposal was consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) – legislation that guides planning decisions in Ontario.
“Most farmers purchase a farm for land and end up with a house, becoming a landlord. This is not the case for us,” said Metaxas. “Unlike farmers wanting to retain the agricultural land and sell the house, I want to do the complete opposite.”
But Dave Hanly, the county’s planning and development director, noted that if it is not a surplus situation, the PPS has no provisions for a severance resulting in a new residential lot.
“This is, regardless of how you look at it, development, and the PPS talks about development being new lot creation,” Hanly added. “If this were to be approved, we’d have a 10 acre parcel. That is different than what we have today, so it is a new lot.”
Considering the circumstances, Hanly said he did not believe the application was unique or warranted the county revisiting its stance on farmhouse severances.
“The county has had that battle, and had that battle fairly recently,” he said, alluding to the OMB hearing. “Perhaps the wounds are still fresh. But at the same time, we have to deal with the application that has come in.”