Kent debates streamlining ag applications

Local advisory committee skipped in process, asks for clarification of guidelines

After an incident earlier this month led to something akin to an existential crisis for the Kent Agricultural Advisory Committee (KAAC), District of Kent staff are looking into creating policy that clarifies timeframes in KAAC’s role of advising the district council.

When an applicant proposed the subdivision of his existing plot of farmland to accommodate a planned sale, it was scheduled as usual to be heard by the KAAC in December.

But due to low numbers the KAAC meeting quorum wasn’t met so the proposal was instead heard at district council’s Jan. 11 meeting, days before the next scheduled KAAC assembly.

“The committee was upset that the application went to council without KAAC’s recommendation,” said Coun. Susan Spaeti at Monday’s council meeting.

But they also recognized that a chance to deal with the subdivision proposal was missed in December and that applications need to be dealt with within a reasonable time, according to Coun. Spaeti who is also chair of the KAAC.

“They also acknowledge and accept that they are an advisory committee and that council makes the final decision regarding these types of applications,” she said.

However, Jim Grieshaber-Otto of the KAAC wondered about the point of his organization’s existence after their Jan. 14 meeting—a meeting just after council’s decision, that in his mind could have advised on the subdivision proposal in a timely manner.

The mandate of the advisory committee is “to identify and address agricultural issues important to the District of Kent and within the legislated guidelines of the Community Charter, Local Government Act and applicable provincial and federal legislation advise Council on those issues.”

It’s a role that Grieshaber-Otto said is important because decisions about agricultural land are crucial to the community’s future well-being for generations.

“You can’t buy prime agricultural land at Superstore,” he said. “What we have is all we have, period, so we must protect it.”

Every acre built on or paved over is lost to future food production, he added.

And carving up agricultural land in the valley—for houses, garages, sidewalks, and roadways means more agricultural land lost, according to Grieshaber-Otto.

“Kent can learn from past mistakes,” he said. “But in order to proceed differently, we need to think very carefully about proposals like this one and avoid those that have a high potential to diminish our scarce agricultural land.”

In the original report for the boundary adjustment of the plot in question, Darcey Kohuch, director of development services for the district recommended that council should not support the division of the agricultural land.

As he presented in the Jan. 11 council meeting, Kohuch states in the report that the subdivision in question (changed from two existing parcels of 22.5 acres and 0.5 acres to two parcels of 5-6 acres and 17-18 acres) does not comply with the Official Community Plan and reduces agricultural opportunity.

He also cited a referral response from the Ministry of Agriculture saying that the Ministry is not in favour of the proposed adjustment.

The potential buyer of the smaller proposed parcel of land said his plans are to use the land for “a self-sufficient farm/equestrian centre” with various livestock raised and fruits and vegetables grown, according to the report.

Voting against staff’s recommendation, council carried a motion to support the subdivision with only Coun. Spaeti in opposition.

Coun. Duane Post did mention during the discussion before voting that he would prefer to see the application referred back to KAAC, as did Coun. Sylvia Pranger.

The subdivision proposal will now move on to be considered by the provincial Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).

Those councillors who voted in favour cited examples of successful smaller parcels around Kent that are used agriculturally and that youth need to be encouraged to get into the industry.

And Grieshaber-Otto doesn’t disagree.

“As a community, we can generally agree that we really must figure out how to help new and young farmers get a start in agriculture,” he said. “Let’s start trying to figure that out, let’s come up with some realistic options to try.”

In a response to the KAAC member’s email questioning the council’s decision, Coun. Darcy Striker pointed to the “old Bartel property” on the end of Whelpton Road when council allowed a boundary adjustment with a property on Walker Road in a similar situation.

“If memory serves me correctly, KAAC was okay with that,” Coun. Striker wrote.

He lists successes on those plots including the large parcel being farmed, growing grass and corn for a dairy farm and containing a dog kennel; the small parcel raising beef and selling excess pasture to another dairy farm.

“I think that decision turned out very well and I can only hope that this one follows suit,” he wrote.

But Grieshaber-Otto stands by his stance that “slicing and dicing” premium agriculture land will only lead to worse trouble in the future.

It’s not just about enabling young people to realize their agricultural dreams but enabling the population to meet its basic food requirements, Grieshaber-Otto said.

KAAC is interested in discussing ideas for different solutions: farmer mentoring, small-scale equipment sharing, small-scale processing and joint direct marketing for example.

Then there’s Kohuch’s recommendation in his report where it’s recommended that the potential buyer looks into buying an existing smaller parcel.

His report mentions as an example that the Ministry of Agriculture’s 2013 Land Use Inventory shows 87 parcels in the two hectare (4.94 acre) range exist in the area.

“Instead of reducing a large farm parcel to create a new hobby farm sized lot, it is possible for the applicant to investigate the market and purchase an existing small farm parcel,” the report reads.

As for the upcoming staff report regarding KAAC, possible policy considerations include what will happen when a quorum cannot be met, a time period for make up meetings and arrangements for members participating remotely.

“There needs to be specific timeframes for both KAAC and the applicant to be aware of when dealing with applications that go to KAAC,” Coun. Spaeti said before her proposed motion.

 

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