County planning department abandons work on AG4 alternative
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Huron County Council has opted to maintain the status quo on the controversial AG4 (Agriculture – Small Holding) zoning designation, saying any concerns should be managed by the Nutrient Management Act.
Council discussed the issue, which has now been up for debate for several years, at its Oct. 7 meeting, which was held virtually, via Zoom. It was raised by Director of Planning and Development Sandra Weber and Senior Planner Denise Van Amersfoort who were simply gauging council’s interest in the department spending time creating an alternative to the legally-compromised zoning designation.
The AG4 zoning allows small farm properties to exist throughout the county and restricts the number of livestock units that can be housed on the property. However, a recent legal challenge has found the zoning to be in conflict with the Nutrient Management Act, which says the government cannot restrict the number of livestock on any kind of agricultural property.
Weber provided a brief historical timeline on the zoning for councillors at the Oct. 7 meeting. She said that while the designation had been working unencumbered for years, the aforementioned legal challenge brought the conflict between the two pieces of regulation to the forefront, making it clear that when it came to policing the amount of livestock on a property zoned AG4, it would be unenforceable.
She said it was as simple as the name of the zoning. Because it was referred to as an “agricultural” zoning when it was created years ago, that meant it was under the umbrella of the Nutrient Management Act, whereas if it wouldn’t have included agricultural terminology, it wouldn’t have anything to do with the act.
Councillors suggested simply removing the inoperable wording from the bylaw – the clause that aims to restrict the number of livestock on a property zoned AG4 – and then leaving the zoning designation in place.
Weber also informed councillors that currently across the county there are approximately 1,900 properties zoned AG4. She reminded councillors that if they wanted to change the designation, those properties wouldn’t be affected, it would only be applied on a go-forward basis.
Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh Deputy-Mayor Roger Watt, however, cited correspondence from North Huron Councillor and farmer Chris Palmer, among others, saying he didn’t understand why the county would seek to restrict livestock on such small lots. The issue has been on council’s table for years, he said, and the simple solution, in his mind, would be to eliminate any restrictions on livestock numbers on the properties and be done with the issue.
Because the Nutrient Management Act works to manage where livestock facilities can be built and how many animals they can house, he felt trying to manage it through a new designation would be a waste of time.
Several other councillors supported Watt’s stance, saying they didn’t feel further work was warranted on the issue, so Warden Jim Ginn brought the discussion to a close.
Weber asked if council would still like to circulate the report to the lower-tier municipalities for their consideration, but councillors felt that would be mixed messaging if the county doesn’t want to adopt it. Watt even said it was akin to spreading misinformation, saying it would be more straightforward if the county didn’t pass the report on any further.
Council then passed a motion to maintain the status quo with the AG4 zoning, but removing the inoperable clause regarding number restrictions on the number of animals allowed on a property.