Norfolk revisits issue of severed-lot swaps

Norfolk council is again testing the province’s opposition to severed-lot swaps in the agricultural zone.

Share Adjust Comment Print

Norfolk council has put the Ford government’s opposition to arbitrary regulation and red tape to the test.

The council approved an application for a severed-lot swap on a farm east of Simcoe on Nov. 12.

The applicant is the Norfolk Cherry Co., which has orchards on Townsend Road 13 east of Blue Line Road. The cherry processor wants to swap a two-acre lot for a one-acre lot severance on land nearby that is not under tillage.

Norfolk has approved two applications similar to this in the past. The province rejected both as contrary to provincial land-use policies.

These initiatives came while the provincial Liberals were in power. The province succeeded in overturning Norfolk’s decisions at the Ontario Municipal Board.

“When you swap two acres of land that is producing cherries for an acre that isn’t, you’d think the province would recognize that this is a good deal for agriculture,” Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus said at the Nov. 12 meeting of Norfolk’s public hearing committee.

Severed-lot swaps have been a hot topic in the agricultural community for several years.

The countryside in Norfolk and elsewhere is dotted with severed lots that were never sold or built upon. As larger agricultural operations consolidate farms, managers often find severed lots on arable land that do not fit their business plan.

Agricultural representatives have suggested swapping these lots for a parcel nearby on poorer soil. However, until recently, the province has resisted.

At last Tuesday’s meeting, Delhi planning consultant David Roe, principal of Civic Planning Solutions, recalled how Norfolk council attempted to write a provision for severed-lot swaps into Norfolk’s official plan during the county’s recent planning policy review.

Norfolk suggested strict criteria. This included a demonstrable improvement to the farming operation, swaps confined to the same farm, swaps of superior soil for poorer soil, swaps no larger than one acre, respect for minimum-distance separations, the relocation of the swapped lot – where possible — to residential areas, no impact on traffic, and no swaps involving environmentally-sensitive land.

“In the end, the province – without direct contact with council or the public – dismissed the proposed policy without comment or explanation,” Roe said.

“Under current planning regulations, the province does not have to justify its actions as there is no right of appeal as part of the five-year review process.

“This is, in my opinion, a great injustice and demonstrates just how one-sided the planning process is. What a waste of time. This is a prime example of the gross lack of accountability of the province’s top-down planning process. Is it no wonder that this council chamber can be filled with angry residents who feel the province just pushes policies down the throats of citizens?”

Given this history, Roe was surprised recently when he watched Oxford County’s land division committee approve an application for a severed-lot swap in the agricultural zone. He was further surprised when the province did not appeal.

Roe told council the applicant got away with it because the decision flew under the province’s radar.

“The province has since commented to Norfolk planning staff that the Oxford official-plan amendment and severance slipped through the cracks and should not have been approved,” Roe said.

Mayor Kristal Chopp recalled how she and Port Dover Coun. Amy Martin raised this issue during last year’s annual conference of the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA). Chopp is on board with swap applications that improve agricultural practices.

“This is not a case of `lot creation,’” the mayor said. “The lot already exists. You’re just moving it to a new location.”

 

Comments