By Dan Rankin
West Perth played host last week to the latest edition of everyone’s favourite ongoing “Will they or Won’t they?” drama. Over 100 people were in attendance at the Mitchell Community Centre last Thursday evening for Perth County Council’s latest public meeting on amendments the county has proposed making to its official plan that would permit surplus farmhouse severances.
Since a well-attended meeting held in Monkton in April, the regulations the County had initially proposed surrounding farmhouse severances have been largely relaxed. For instance, under the rules currently being proposed, a surplus farmhouse could be severed even if the land owner’s home farm is not abutting the land being severed, so long as the applicant lives in Perth County.
By far, the majority of those choosing to speak at last week’s meeting, as well as those who were unable to attend but sent correspondence, were in favour of the proposed amendment.
Perth South Council, who have been outspoken in their support of approving surplus farmhouse severances within the township, were largely present, with both Mayor Robert Wilhelm and Deputy Mayor Jim Aitcheson on stage serving in their capacity as County Councillors, while Perth South Councillors Sam Corriveau, Cathy Barker and Melinda Zurbrigg were all visible in the crowd.
Comments given during the meeting would be “considered by County Council” at their upcoming meetings, County Warden Mert Schneider said. As such, Council’s decision on the matter was not made Thursday. However, it seemed as though farmers across Perth were finally in agreement that severance should be permitted – even if there were still a few things they would like to see changed.
“Certainly there have been a number of changes to what is being proposed,” said Tim Halliday of the Perth County Federation of Agriculture. “Does that meet all of our concerns about normal farm practices being respected? The short answer to that would be no. But I think we’re at the point where we’ve been discussing this for a long, long time. It’s time to have some conciliation on this subject… there are a lot more things that are a lot more important to Perth County and to agriculture.
“I think we need to move on,” he said. “I think this is maybe a step in the right direction.”
His point was reiterated by West Perth Councillor Dean Trentowsky, who related an anecdote about catching a skunk in a live trap. “I went back to the shed, got two pieces of lumber and used them to open the door,” he said. “He went up to the door, but just kept running around in the trap. This went on for five minutes. All he had to do was go through the damn door. Ten years this has been going on. Let’s just go through the door like the skunk did, and get on with our lives, and make this county great again.”
The most controversial topic Thursday seemed to be item ‘e’ of the proposed amendment, which would dictate that “the area of land to be severed for the surplus farm dwelling lot shall be limited to the minimum size required for the residential use and to accommodate the appropriate sewage and water services.”
Though they were pleased by the changes to the proposed policy County Council made since the April public meeting in Monkton, a number of people spoke up about an interest in severing a surplus farmhouse along with an old barn or a vacant shed to support a rural business or hobby farm.
“In Middlesex County, a friend of mine is a carpenter and he has on his severed farm property that’s about five acres, a shed, an old barn and a shop,” said Huston De Brabendere of Perth South. “He operates his business out of there. He rents the space out and has maybe two cows and a pig in the barn and he keeps it up. We want to talk about heritage and keeping that around the county, but if we don’t allow for these larger severances, it’s just more encouragement for these barns to get torn down. If [those buildings] are attached to that small house, he can use it for storage and his two cows and his pig, and he has a son. His son can grow up around these farm animals.”
During an adjournment of the meeting, De Brabendere told the Independent that he was “glad to see that they made the changes to the amendment that they did,” and was “just probing to see if there was any more flexibility on minimum sizing.”
“Who doesn’t hate to see another old, barnboard barn go down?” asked his mother Marianne, who was also in attendance. “That’s all we have. There should be a historical society to protect them. We don’t have one. Other Counties are preserving the whole farmstead and keeping the outbuildings. It should be a good idea for Perth too. With continuing renewed interest in the history, charm and use-ability of these buildings, are they doomed before they get their next chance?”
Now that surplus farmhouse severances seem to gaining ground, she said, “Perth residents’ next efforts may well be the fight to keep the ‘picturesque’ in Perth.”
County Warden Mert Schneider and County Planner Allan Rothwell cut short several attempts by those in attendance to create a discussion about severing off slightly larger lots along with the farmhouses.
“The proposed policy is for surplus farmhouse severances only. It is not a policy to permit undersized farm parcels,” Rothwell said. “That is contrary to the provincial policy statement.”
Closing the meeting, Rothwell said that County Council would decide the process it would follow to consider approval of the proposed official plan amendment. County Council may make a decision at one of its regularly scheduled upcoming meetings in October, he said.