Municipalities are Helping Developers Develop Farmland by Shirley Dolan

While working with the city of Ottawa last year on their proposed Site Alteration By-law, staff insisted that it was important to protect agricultural land from development. The Carleton Landowners Association (CLA) voiced their skepticism that any bylaw would stop the development of farmland because the municipality allows that development. They may not be in favour of it, but they may be unintentionally putting farmland in harms way by allowing it to be designated and therefore not useable.

One of the ways in which this happens is that viable farmland (and other properties) are zoned as provincially significant wetlands (PSWs), which reduces the value of the land and restricts usage. This often results in the sale of the land to, you guessed it, a developer who somehow manages to get the PSW designation lifted and proceeds to build houses, condos, shopping centres or whatever will return a profit.

Goulbourn, a former township in the City of Ottawa, seems to be a prime target for PSW designations. Starting in 2000 (right after amalgamation), the former councillor representing Goulbourn, Janet Stavinga, and the city began working with the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA) to assess private property as wetlands.

Many of the residents of the area have been there for many years and remember the development along Stittsville Main of houses, strip malls, and a grocery store in a swampy area that ducks called home. There was no problem paving over these true wetlands and it seems that now that they are gone, the City is looking to replace these areas by designating private property. There has been a suggestion that the City is trying to fill some kind of wetland quota and they are using private property to do it.

Those living on property that has been designated say the City is designating previously dry areas as PSW and further, that the wetlands in many cases are caused by the City’s failure to manage drainage issues in the area.

And the fight goes on!

In the latest round of designations which will be expressed in an official plan amendment and subsequent rezoning in early 2019, a farm on Fernbank Road has been caught in the PSW net. Its not the first time this farm has been targeted. In 1997, Dave Morley, the owner of the property and a well-respected resident of Goulbourn, approached the Township for a farm severance.  The severance was granted but only on the condition that the family give up the northwest corner of the property as PSW.

Since that time, the City has allowed neighbouring businesses to drain water onto the farm. One of the newer developments in Stittsville backs right onto the farm. In addition, a section of the Trans Canada Trail runs north of the property, the ditches are not maintained, and the result is additional flooding on neighbouring properties, including the Morley farm.

So yes, parts of the property may be wetter than before and there may be different plants growing there but as many of the residents in that area will tell you, if there was a proper drainage plan, this would not be the case.

The Morley Family will lose more than 50 percent of what remains of the farm … that’s in addition to the acreage taken from the family as a condition of the farm severance.

Dave Morley has since passed away. His wife Bev still lives on the farm and their daughter Joni Sabourin and her son have taken up the challenge of trying to save what is left of the family farm. And a challenge it is: it means lots of time and money going to City of Ottawa committee meetings to voice your objection to the designation. Voicing your objection is not likely to change the designation – it just means that you have the right to appeal it at the new Land Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT). And that means hiring a lawyer, maybe a planner, and maybe finding some expert witnesses who will speak on your behalf.

Several years ago, the idea of the 100-mile diet became very popular. Yet, increasingly, farmland that is closest to urban boundaries are the most likely to be lost. And it appears that municipalities, however unwittingly, are encouraging this with their PSW designations.