By Connor Lynch
NEWCASTLE — A shocking turnaround has an East-Central Ontario farm family taking its case to the Ontario Municipal Board.
Clarington council approved the agri-tourism proposal for the farm, then voted against it and that’s put the future of the farm at risk, farm owner Deborah Mathias told Farmers Forum. Lamb and beef farmers Deborah and Oswin Mathias, who run the 40-acre Graham Creek Farm at Newcastle, made their case to the municipality of Clarington in the fall of 2015. They were hoping to introduce event hosting for up to 233 people and include weddings, as well as educational tours and on-farm meat preparation and sales.
The township’s official plan doesn’t allow on-farm special events so they had to justify an official plan amendment and get the land rezoned. They estimated they’d spent around $100,000 on studies, which has since ballooned to $150,000 with lawyers and consultants’ fees.
Throughout that initial process of studies, “we were encouraged by the municipality to keep going,” Mathias said.
Municipal staff released a report in January recommending the township approve the proposal, and the township’s committee for planning and development gave its blessing as well. The Mathiases had done everything that the committee had asked and had met with two of their immediate neighbours, neither of whom had raised an objection to the proposal. One was even considering applying for a job, Mathias said.
The initial public meeting had only a few objectors, she said. “They were concerned, and understandably,” largely citing traffic and noise concerns.
Then some neighbours rallied against them, decrying the plan as a threat to their quiet rural atmosphere. Resident Jon Sprenger wrote in a letter to council that, “People move to the country to find peace, not parties.”
Mathias said that the issue “got blown way out of proportion at the final meeting.”
The Mathias’s gathered letters of support from neighbours, local businesses, and a few farm and business organizations, but to no avail. Township council voted 4-3 in January to turn down the wedding and event venue portion of the Mathias’s application. She said she was especially puzzled by the sudden reversal because “we’d already talked to the planning committee. The music would be shut off at 11 p.m. Everyone would be off the property at midnight. We’d already agreed to all the conditions.”
They won’t be taking the rejection lying down. Mathias said that they plan to appeal the decision to the Ontario Municipal Board. “Hopefully the OMB takes the political aspect out of this. If it goes against us, we’d have to start auctioning stuff off. I don’t want to think about it.
“The farm is mortgaged to pay for this. This is do or die. We cannot retire. We can’t live on site. How do you manage $800 hydro bills on your old-age pension?”