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County concerned about province’s agricultural, natural heritage designations

by Patrick Raftis

GUELPH - Wellington County council wants the province to extend the commenting period on its proposed Environmental Bill of Rights in order to allow county staff to bring local concerns to the attention of provincial officials.

County concerns include elements of both the agricultural and natural heritage systems within the bill, part of proposed changes to the province’s growth plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe area.

In a report to the county’s planning committee, policy planning manager Mark Paoli explained staff have concerns with the approach to existing designated areas of non-agricultural land uses.

“Based on our reading, it appears that small areas of non-agricultural land use designation (such as rural employment area, recreation area, lifestyle communities, or other site specific areas) will be automatically changed to a prime agricultural areas designation through this process and there would be no ability for the county to retain the current designation,” the report indicates.

“What I found disturbing was the generalization by overlaying prime agricultural in broad terms, particularly in Erin and Minto, over presently secondary agricultural designations in those two communities,” planning committee chair Alan Alls told county councillors on Sept. 28.

“There have been some modifications but it’s still of great bearing to the county official plan.”

Alls, the mayor of Erin, added, “This designation is being applied to rural employment areas, recreation areas and whereas, in the past, 400 acre blocks were used to designate prime versus secondary, this new plan now is using blocks of 250 hectares which is quite a large grouping.”

Paoli’s report suggests if such areas are still included in the agricultural land base at the time of the municipal comprehensive review, then municipalities should have the option to remove them from the agricultural land base, regardless of their size or built-up status.

The report also expressed concerns about a web portal intended to be a region-wide source of information about agricultural resources and the agri-food sector.

“We have significant concerns about errors on the map layer titled ‘Areas currently designated agricultural,’ which is intended to show the prime agricultural area designation in the county official plan,” the report notes, pointing out there are also a number of gaps in the information for Wellington County on the location of agri-food businesses.

“We would be willing to provide the province with the agri-food business data that the county maintains so that the province can add it to the web portal,” the report states.

Another staff report from planner Jamieson Pickard questions provisions that would apply a natural heritage systems (NHS) designation to some developed residential areas designated “country residential” in the county official plan in Minto, Wellington North, Mapleton, Erin, Puslinch and Guelph-Eramosa.

The NHS designation also appears on provincial mapping to apply to most of the “recreational” designated lands in Wellington (ie. golf courses, trailer parks and cottages in conservation areas).

“We do not support the approach whereby lands that are currently designated in the county official plan as [rural employment, country residential or recreational areas] are included within the natural heritage system,” Pickard states in the report.

“Some of these areas have significant portions which are developed or have potential to be developed and are not envisioned to be naturalized in the future. By including these designated lands in the NHS, an additional layer of policy will be applied to new development in areas where development exists and is already permitted through previously approved planning processes.”

The planning committee recommended the staff reports be forwarded to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and circulated to local municipalities.

However, due to concerns that prime agricultural areas in Erin and Minto were revised after the staff reports were prepared, and because council remains concerned about the removal of the secondary agricultural areas, the resolution passed by council maintains “an extension to the environmental bill of rights commenting period is necessary  to allow staff the opportunity to continue working with provincial ministries to address local concerns.”

The commenting period was set to end on Oct. 4.

October 6, 2017


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