BSeveral representatives of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s agricultural community and wine industry spoke about the need for increased protections to be put in place regarding the updated official plan, which is going through the public consultation stage before being presented for final approval for council,
Although NOTL’s agricultural industry is already covered by several layers of provincial, municipal and regional protection policies, Jamie Slingerland of Pillitteri Estates Winery, with a history of farming in his blood, asked council for some changes to the draft official plan “to protect my family and extended family interests regarding their right to earn a living in agriculture in NOTL.”
With 40 per cent of the population of NOTL living in the rural area, he said, “I would request council heed the advice of your only farmer on council. Don’t let the Old Town be your only focus.”
He asked that “sights, sounds and smells of agriculture” as normal farming practices be included in the document to allow for clearing of land, spraying, bird bangers and wind machines, spraying manure, irrigation and even working through the night, in addition to other farming necessities that might bother neighbours.
He also said he’s concerned that preserving cultural heritage resources and natural heritage systems might overlap and negatively impact a farmer’s right to level soil, irrigate, construct or deconstruct a pond, remove trees or build a barn.
He suggested the current draft should include policies regarding wineries that were entrenched in the 1994 official plan, which was approved when he was a town councillor, but are not part of the 2018 revision. Those policies would require a farm winery to have at lest 10 acres, an estate winery to have 20, and both to have 75 per cent of their property planted with grapes, to protect the agricultural use of the land.
There is no inclusion of those provisions for breweries or distilleries, he said, and very little to restrict them, “which seems a little unfair to wineries and is likely an oversight.”
Allowing them on farmland “is a generous OP provision,” he said, but keeping them small should prevent displacement of specialty crop land. He suggested microbreweries and distilleries should be required to have a 10-acre minimum property with 75 per cent of it planted to crops.
But protecting farmland wasn’t his only goal in speaking to council.
He told them at his age of 61, the lord mayor and five of the councillors elected “have lived in NOTL for the same amount of years combined that I have lived in NOTL.”
He said they should make every attempt to keep “tenured staff and legal representation for not only their talent but for the value of their institutional memory. Without that memory you will be lost in the future and condemned to repeat mistakes of the past.”
He also told them to “stop all the OMB hearings and negotiate,” with developers, although there is no more Ontario Municipal Board, which has been replaced by the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.
“This council has appeared to be quick to go to the OMB and I hope that is not the case for the OP,” he said.
“If the town lawyer says you can’t win at the OMB, then you can’t win,” Slingerland warned them.
His last bit of advice to the new councillors: The interim control bylaws council has recently approved freeze development but also hurt the people who work in construction, not just the developers, and “won’t alter in any way the developments presently being proposed.”