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County council turns down zoning change for bulk water supply

CouncilCounty council turns down zoning change for bulk water supply

County of Brant councillors denied a zoning by-law amendment application from Bicz Farms Inc. during its regular council meeting on Tuesday, February 13, 2024.

The Angrish Group agent, on behalf of Bicz Farms Inc., had submitted a proposal to rezone its 1760 Colbourne Street East property from Agriculture, to Agriculture – Special Exception with a holding, to facilitate the creation of a new lot in the agricultural area.

“This application in front of you has three requests. First is to create a bulk water depot in the agricultural area,” said Emily Sousa, a County of Brant Planner. “Two, is to create a smaller than permitted lot in the agricultural area where the bulk water depot will be located with reduced front yard setback. And three, to permit a smaller than permitted lot in the agricultural areas on the lands proposed to be retained.”

The rezoning would essentially permit Bicz Farms Inc. to section off 1.8 hectares of its agricultural land to be used as a bulk water sales establishment (The Waterman).

Delegate Brian Smith, a nearby neighbour to the lands, explained to council why he was against the rezoning application.

Smith listed a variety of concerns, especially when it comes to existing heavy traffic volume and safety.

“As a resident there, because my farm would be directly across from this proposed station, this proposes many, many hazardous problems and it’s really concerning me. One of the most important things is it would be taking away from the quality of the area,” he continued. “Our community is rural farmland, and we’re doing our best to keep it that way. Not that we’re opposed to situations like this, but I think in this area, it is packed and it is dangerous. I don’t think that we have any more room for any additional traffic turning in and out of this area.”

Bob Phillips, a project engineer with J.H. Cohoon Engineering Ltd., was on site representing Bicz Farm Inc. and insisted that the Waterman bulk station was indeed an agricultural related business.

“The proposal is to create a Waterman bulk station on his property, which is related to providing water to the agricultural community, that’s a significant portion of his business,” said Phillips. “The Bicz family bought the business back in 2018 and temporarily relocated to an industrial site on Papple Road but due to conflicts with the operations there, he’s seeking to move it to this location. His clientele is located between Ancaster and Branford, and this site is a very good location for him.”

Phillips noted that the application started in 2021 and meetings with County planning staff were followed up in 2022.

“As part of the application, Bicz Farms Inc. were required to do significant studies like planning justification, archaeology, transportation impact, a site development plan, grading and servicing, geotechnical, stormwater management, hydrogeological assessment, and Marketing Development Fund (MDF) calculations. At all times through this process, it was never indicated that this was not going to be supported,” said Phillips. “I appreciate that they didn’t say they were going to support it, but there was no discouragement from continuing through the process. The owner spent in excess of $50,000 on these studies, and all of the studies have been presented to the County and we’ve had no comments on them. They’ve been accepted from a technical point of view.”

He noted that while the application was sent to the Agricultural Advisory Committee (AAC), and while Bicz Farms representatives were in attendance, they were unable to speak as part of the submission.

“It came to their attention that maybe not all of this information was before the AAC, and as such, I would suggest that council should put little weight on the recommendation from the AAC,” said Phillips.

When it comes to traffic concerns, Phillips noted that the Waterman trucks leave the site early in the morning and return at night.  

“It’s not a high traffic volume business, but I wanted to point out that there was a transportation impact study that was presented to the county, and to date, there has been no technical concerns with that report or any of the others,” he said

Sousa, then presented the council with the staff’s reasoning for denying the application.

“One, the proposed bulk water depot is not a permitted use in the agricultural area under the provincial policy statement or Ontario’s Prime Agricultural guidelines, and under County policy as the use is, in the opinion of staff, a general commercial use and does not primarily serve farmers,” she said. “Two, the application looks to create smaller than what is permitted lots in the agricultural area which is not permitted under provincial policy guidelines and under County policy. Lastly, the proposal does not seek to keep the use secondary to the farm operation on site, as required by the zoning by-law and seeks to introduce incompatible development within the existing agricultural area.”

Councillor Brian Coleman asked if there had not been changes to policies when the application originally came forward in 2021, if it would have had the nod of approval from staff.

“At that point in time our zoning bylaw did permit bulk sales establishments, broadly, whether they served agriculture or not and that was the application that staff provided comment on,” said Sousa. “Given changes to provincial policy and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) guidelines, over the course of time, staff have undertaken several housekeeping amendments to align our zoning to be more in line with provincial policy to state that bulk sales establishments have to be agricultural related and must meet several criteria, including primarily serving farmers, etc, in order to be viewed as a bulk sales establishment and permitted within the agricultural area.”

Councillor Jenifer Kyle then asked Sousa what the criteria was that would indicate that a business is primarily serving farms.

Sousa said that staff asked for a list of clientele from the applicant and received approximately 20 names, which the county worked to verify through public data if the addresses were registered farm businesses.

“Out of that list of 20, we were only able to verify a handful (14), and so it is of the opinion of staff that… we can’t be sure that it’s an agricultural related use,” she said. “We’ve also been informed that there is a broader clientele in terms of serving and filling pools, cisterns, etc, and have broader, more residential uses, so it is of the opinion of staff that it’s does not primarily serve farmers.”

Councillors Christine Garneau, Chambers and Kyle all asked several questions regarding what constitutes “agricultural use.”

“In prime agricultural areas, which all agricultural lands in the county are part of, permitted uses include agricultural uses, agricultural related and non-farm diversified uses. Those uses must, under provincial guidance, primarily benefit farmers and the surrounding agricultural area,” said Sousa. “ …This criteria exists because it’s opening up agricultural lands for development and so the development that is to be permitted under provincial policy statement, has to consider and balance the agricultural land protection, as well as the benefits to serving the economic aspect of the agricultural industry, which is why these uses are permitted. We don’t see general commercial uses or other types of uses permitted on prime agricultural areas within the county.”

Councillor Robert Chambers noted that it was in councils best interest to be consistent with provincial policy guidelines.

“This application fails on all three provincial policies, including our Official Plan, which is based on provincial policy. The first line of every provincial policy says that municipalities must be consistent with provincial policy, and that’s what our official plan is based on,” said Chambers. “The 2016 policy is very specific that it has to primarily be an agricultural use. …But if you’re filling cisterns and swimming pools in Haldimand County, and Norfolk County, etc, that is not serving the agricultural community in proximity to the proposed use.”

Councillors John Bell and David Miller agreed that they would be supporting staff’s recommendation to deny the applicants request.

Coleman noted that while he would be in fact supporting the recommendation, it was under protest.

“I don’t like how this has been handled. What  bothers me the most, is that this came forward in 2021 and now it’s 2024. Yes, there have been some policy changes and such, but I’m just disappointed in how much the applicants had to spend and how long this has taken,” he said. “I have never been a big favour of this application, …so I will support the staff, but I am not happy with the way it has been handled.”

David Bailey, Mayor for the County of Brant called the vote on staff’s recommendation to turn down the application and the motion was passed on a vote of 8-3, noting that Councillors Oakley, Kyle, and Garneau voted to allow the applicants request.

After the vote Bailey apologized to the applicant for his monetary loss throughout the application.

“Noting that I think the County has caused the applicant to spend money and it’s very unfair that it took that long, and that there was encouragement from other staff that maybe aren’t here right now,” he said. “I believe that the applicant spent money that they didn’t have to spend and for that I’m sorry. I wasn’t in this chair back then, so I’m only apologizing for someone else but I just feel bad because I do believe that you were trying to do what you needed to do to get it done and for that I’m very sorry.”

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