By Dan Rankin
At Perth East Council Chamber in Milverton as part of a special meeting on Monday morning, Perth County Council will hear a presentation on behalf of two of its lower-tier municipalities about reversing its policy on prohibiting surplus farmhouse severances. The policy dates back to 1997, when the Perth County Official Plan was adopted. Since then, it has been hotly-contested issue between Perth South and West Perth, who believe allowing the surplus farmhouse severances would provide a much-needed injection into their tax coffers, as well as stemming increasing farm consolidation and dwindling communities, and North Perth and Perth East, who believe the severances will be detrimental to the region’s mighty agriculture sector. They support keeping the Official Plan the way it is.
Surplus farmhouse severances are permitted in other rural municipalities across Ontario.
A table on the special meeting’s agenda shows that, in Perth South in 2010, there were 59 owners of farm properties with residences who also owned another farm property with a residence. That accounted for 151 parcels of land. This year in Perth South, 74 landowners now hold multiple parcels of land with residences, accounting for 161 parcels of land. Consolidation has been more drastic in West Perth, where 30 more landowners now have multiple parcels of land with residences compared to 2010, accounting for 235 total parcels of land in the municipality. Perth South and West Perth leaders foresee disaster if those land owners should decide to demolish those residences.
So, leading up to the meeting, a letter was submitted Oct. 19 to County Council by representatives from Perth South and West Perth regarding their desires for the surplus farmhouse dwelling issue.
In the letter, they note that they are “experiencing social, economic and cultural impacts on our communities,” and “would like to see a policy framework developed which allows for the severance of surplus farm dwellings following a set of criteria which balance the needs of our communities with the importance of protecting Perth County’s farming potential.”
In their proceeding proposal, they suggest an amendment to the County Official Plan “to allow surplus farm dwelling severances in all of Perth County,” but to have the change enacted “through a local zoning by-law that can be adopted by the municipalities that wish to make use of this policy,” or not by those that do not. This was an option included in an April 2, 2015 County Planner’s Report.
Even while their proposal suggests allowing the severances, Perth South and West Perth still support an approach that addresses among other issues, the location of a surplus farm dwelling relative to the location of other farms owned by the same operator, and the requirement for the lot to be as small as can be properly serviced.
“We ask that County Council support the development of a policy that would permit surplus farm dwellings, subject to a set of criteria which would respect local needs while balancing the importance of agriculture in Perth County,” they write in their rationale. “West Perth and Perth South recognize that not all of the farmers that have surplus farm dwellings in our communities are interested in having the option of severing them. For those farmers that are interested, we would like to have a policy framework that would allow this option.”
Reasons for the need that they list include “financial impacts from the reductions in OMPF funding,” lost taxation, and future taxation loss.
They estimate that, if just 36 of the 73 surplus farm dwellings that have been demolished in West Perth’s borders since 2000 had been severed instead, they could have contributed a total of $66,000 in annual taxation to the County, school board and West Perth. If half of the 30 houses demolished in Perth South since 2000 were severed instead, they estimate $27,750 in annual taxation could have been collected. Extrapolating forward, they are also worried about future taxation loss should the policy remain unchanged. Further, they are concerned about losses to population and cultural heritage, writing that they “feel that the drop in the number of rural residents is a significant threat to the rural community fabric that we all cherish.”
A public meeting to gather public input on the issue was held in Sebringville in June, with over 100 attendees coming out to alternatively speak out against or in favour of the existing policy.
At the meeting in Milverton on Monday, Perth County Council will decide whether or not the current policy will remain in place or be changed. If there will be no change, they will pass a resolution confirming the existing policy. If, however, a change is desired, according to the special meeting agenda, they may draft a policy to permit “surplus farmhouse severances, based on a set of criteria to present at a Public Meeting under the Planning Act,” or they may conduct a public meeting and consider “whether or not to adopt an Official Plan Amendment to permit surplus farmhouse severances.”