Planning Department seeks to close AG4 loophole - Nov. 15, 2018
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
The Huron County Planning and Development Department is working to close a loophole in the planning process that saw two different policies contradict one another.
Director of Planning and Development Sandra Weber spoke to the issue at Huron County Council’s Nov. 7 meeting. It has been a flashpoint of controversy in the East Wawanosh Ward of North Huron, resulting in a challenge that is still before the courts.
In her report, Weber said that a section of local municipal bylaws was found to be in conflict with the provincial Nutrient Management Act.
With municipal zoning bylaws throughout Huron County limiting the number of livestock on properties zoned AG4 (agricultural small holding zone) with the limit being equal to one nutrient management unit per acre to a maximum of four or five units. This, Weber said, is in direct conflict with the Nutrient Management Act, which states that there shall be no restriction on the number of farm animals that may be managed in the course of an agricultural operation.
If a municipal bylaw and the Nutrient Management Act address the same subject matter, Weber said that the Nutrient Management Act supercedes any local legislation.
Weber’s recommendation was to maintain the AG4 zoning on existing parcels, updating the provisions by removing the restriction on nutrient units.
In regards to new applications, Weber suggested that they would include a condition to either have a barn demolished or altered so that it is no longer capable of housing livestock to the satisfaction of the municipality, which might require the removal of infrastructure such as manure storage, feed bins, mangers or stalls.
She said that this condition would not prohibit livestock use, but structural changes to the building to accommodate livestock would require a building permit, which would trigger a Nutrient Management Strategy to be prepared.
Weber also told councillors that some neighbouring municipalities use a Rural Residential zoning for lots created through the surplus farm dwelling consent process.
That zoning choice would prohibit the keeping of livestock on any future lots created through surplus farm residence severance.
Weber said, however, that the department was not recommending the second option because the keeping of farm animals on AG4 properties in Huron County is rather common and has not led to any significant complaints.
In her report, Weber told councillors that there are over 1,800 existing AG4 properties spread across the county right now, 44 per cent of which have an existing barn.
If council were to approve the department’s recommended policy shift, Weber said the number of livestock would not be limited on AG4-zoned properties. Where a building permit is required, Minimum Distance Separation would then kick in and setbacks to lot lines would be implemented and a Nutrient Management Strategy may be required depending on the size of the operation.
Properties with existing barns, however, she said, may not trigger either of the above requirements.
She said that municipal bylaws would then have to be silent on the keeping of livestock in agricultural zones, but limitations in urban settlement zones are operable.
Farm operations of every size, Weber said, would be required to maintain sound farm practices, so if a neighbour was concerned about manure management or other farm practices, they would be directed to the complaint processes through either the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) or the Normal Farm Practices Board.
For surplus residence consents where the severed parcel contains a barn, Weber suggested that the structure either be demolished or altered so that it could no longer hold livestock.
She said that in recent years, the approach in Huron County has been to allow well-maintained barns to remain with the severed residence. The concern with that approach, she said, would be that if the barn can house livestock, this could be interpreted as the creation of a small farm, as opposed to the severance of a surplus house in light of new information that the number of livestock on the new property will not be able to be limited.
While councillors did have some concerns, they approved Weber’s recommendations. She said that the new provisions would be a “living document” so council and the department could make changes as time goes on where necessary.