TORONTO — It’s been impossible for farmers to carve out housing lots on their prime agricultural land since the retirement-lot allowance ended decades ago in Ontario. But the Ford government is set to turn back the clock by allowing some farmland owners to extract a few more housing lots — a move opposed by a dozen farm organizations that have come out squarely against the change.
Up to three residential lots could be severed off a farm in certain circumstances, under a new provision pushed by the government. The surprise nugget turned up in Bill 97, the Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act, introduced at Queen’s Park in April.
Already concerned at a reported 319 acres of farmland lost daily to development, the leaders of 12 Ontario farm groups issued a joint statement May 18 asking for a “pause” on the bill and on proposed changes to the provincial planning statement.
“We stand in strong opposition to the 3 lot severances per farm parcel proposed in prime agricultural areas as well as other measures that weaken local farmland protection,” declares the statement signed by the top leaders of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, the National Farmers Union-Ontario, the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, the Beef Farmers of Ontario, the Chicken Farmers of Ontario and several other farm commodity groups.
Bill 97, if passed as is, will allow up to three residential lots to be severed from agricultural parcels located in prime agricultural areas, so long as the new lots conform to existing farm setback rules and don’t hinder farm operations. The new lots can’t be entirely surrounded by top-grade farmland; they must be located adjacent to non-agricultural land or “lower-priority agricultural land.
Jackie Kelly-Pemberton, an Eastern Ontario zone director with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, told Farmers Forum that building new housing on ag land would potentially restrict new or expanding livestock operations because of the setback rules that apply to new farm projects.
In the same vein, the groups’ joint statement predicts increased conflict between farm and non-farm neighbours among the “detrimental impacts” of permitting residential lot creation in agricultural areas. Other alleged impacts include fragmentation of farmland, inflated farmland prices that will make farming even more unattainable for the next generation, and increasing costs to municipalities.
“Additional lot severances … will make it difficult or impossible for farmers to operate, expand and grow their farms,” they say, urging preservation of Ontario’s “scarce” farmland and requesting the province direct development to urban and rural settlement areas instead.
Ontario agriculture, they point out, accounts for nearly 750,000 jobs in Ontario and more than $47 billion in provincial GDP.
Calvin Pol, planning director in the Township of North Dundas, an agricultural municipality south of Ottawa, also gave a thumbs down on Bill 97. “I can’t say this proposal constitutes good planning in our valuable prime agricultural areas,” he told Farmers Forum.
The Ford government is under pressure to solve Ontario’s housing crisis amid surging population growth. The government has a goal of constructing 1.5 million new homes over the next decade.