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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sheep may safely graze (but not in London Ontario)

Are farmlands on our outskirts a bad image for London?
Mayor Fontana continues to be a man in a hurry and no wonder. Within the remainder of his term of office he has to bring 10,000 jobs to London and increase assessment growth to 2.5%. It won’t be easy.

Last week his attention turned to the potential for more industrial development along the 401. "Let me be as blunt as possible. We need to and must develop that area as quickly as possible," he was reported as saying. He wants the backhoes in there by the end of the year.

At least one reporter appreciates Fontana’s gung ho approach, especially the images he uses to convey his vision. Pat Maloney was particularly enchanted by the following statement from Fontana:

“My intention is not to graze sheep on the south part of the 401. And anyone who would suggest . . . that perhaps we don’t need (more land), I hope they’re not suggesting we graze sheep on it, because that’s not the image that I have for London.”

I don’t know if Fontana is familiar with the aria “Sheep may safely graze” from Bach’s The Hunt Cantata (No. 208) but the lyrics and the imagery are particularly appropriate in this situation. Here they are:

Sheep may safely graze
Whilst the shepherd is watching.
Where the wise and good rule
Peace will also reign there
And there will be peace throughout the world.

Some of the land the Fontana has his eye on is outside of the urban growth boundary and currently zoned agricultural. I doubt that he will be able to get that changed by the end of the year.

When I was elected to the Board of Control a little more than four years ago, I was appointed to what was then the Planning committee. The city had just embarked on a provincially mandated review of the Official Plan which was approved by Council in early in 2008 and submitted to the province. It got the provincial nod only last year following challenges at the Ontario Municipal Board.

The review included an extensive analysis of the City’s growth projections and land needs. We found we had enough land within the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) to last us for the next 20 to 50 years, depending on the type of use. Despite extensive lobbying from developers and landowners who wanted their lands included within the UBG, Council held firm, although individuals were welcome to make a specific development application that would require an Official Plan Amendment. That was the case of the Sun Life Financial saga. You can read about it here.

The Official Plan contains City Council's objectives and policies to guide the short-term and long-term physical development of all lands within the boundary of the municipality. Although it can be amended between revisions, any changes have to be consistent with the provincial legislation, particularly the Planning Act and the Provincial Policy Statement 2005 (PPS).

The PPS sets the policy foundation for regulating the development and use of land. That means that the City or the Mayor can’t just decide on their own to pave over agricultural land.

In fact agricultural lands for raising crops or livestock receive special protection in the PPS. And no wonder.

Canada has a large land area but most of it is unsuitable for farming. The land in Southern Ontario, however, is among the most fertile in the world. Still, agricultural land is disappearing at an alarming rate to residential, commercial and industrial development. In Ward 9 I have witnessed the disappearance of acre after acre of fruit trees and vegetable crops along with livestock operations. Already Canadians depend on imports for fully two-thirds of the food they consume.

Of particular concern in the PPS are specialty crops such as tender fruits, grapes and vegetables which require the suitable soils to be found in abundance in our area. Planning authorities are required to establish specialty crop areas using the province’s evaluation procedures.

In prime agricultural areas the only permitted uses and activities are agricultural uses and limited secondary uses and agriculture-related uses, such as a retail outlet for sales of produce or some type of processing plant. The latter two uses have to be limited in scale. I doubt that a huge industrial warehousing operation would be in line with the PPS.

The PPS did not exist when Fontana served on Council in the 1980’s so perhaps he can be excused for not taking it into account.

But certainly there were sheep, and wolves looking to make a killing. You just don’t expect that the shepherd will be in cahoots with the wolves.


Why's woman said...

Mayor Joe's comment shook me to the core. I decided to take a formal step and e-mailed this note to Betty Mercier (bmercier@london.ca), to send to the Agricultural Advisory Committe. Unfortunately the AAC won't be meeting again until March 16, but I bet they're already on this. Why's Woman

Wed. Feb. 2/11
To the members of the Agricultural Advisory Committee,

On January 28/11, the LFPress published ‘Landowner looks to cash in. http://www.lfpress.com/news/london/2011/01/27/17064031.html
I request that the Agricultural Advisory Committee discuss this article. Your members are knowledgeable about agricultural land designations, development zones, land that is within London jurisdiction. I request that you submit a response to this article, based in your knowledge, through the channels available to you. .
I noted a comment about the item on the London Civic Watch blog, February 1/11 entry, which you may want to take a look at. [http://ginabarber.blogspot.com/]
Thank you. I won't be surprised if your committee is already acting on this.

Sincerely and with best personal regards,

Sandy Levin said...

The arguments before the OMB in the 1990s after annexation by the farmers in the area convinced the board member to put a growth boundary on the city so that the agricultural producers could have some certainty in their planning.