By Stephen Dafoe
Sturgeon County – It was standing room only in Sturgeon County Council chambers Tuesday morning. Residents came out in full force for the reopening of a public hearing on a proposed bylaw that would have seen Intensive Agricultural Use with Farmstead shift from a permitted to a discretionary use in the Urban Fringe District. The large contingent of those opposed to the amendment prompted council to vote 6-1 against third reading, defeating the amendment.
Under Sturgeon County’s proposed Land Use Bylaw amendment, intensive agriculture use would have been defined as “a commercial agricultural operation other than a confined feeding operation, which, due to the nature of the operation require smaller tracts of land. Without restricting the generality of the foregoing, this shall include: nurseries, greenhouses, market gardens, tree farms and specialty crops.”
First reading of the controversial bylaw was given Apr. 26 and a public hearing was held on the matter June 14, a meeting at which no members of the public came forward and only one e-mail was received. Second reading was given at that time; however, third reading was halted at the June 28 meeting of Sturgeon County Council after a recommendation to reopen the hearing was made by Division 4 Councillor David Kluthe, who was opposed to the bylaw.
Tuesday’s public hearing ran two-and-a-half hours and saw a number of affected residents speak to the proposed bylaw and why it should be defeated.
Retired farmer John Kampjes questioned why council would support the change from permitted to discretionary use, a question he presented in both a letter submitted prior to the hearing and in addressing council during the same. For Kampjes and many of those who came out in opposition to the amendment, there was a belief that if a fringe area was needed to buffer small agriculture from subdivisions and towns, it should not be farmers who pay. “Maybe these towns and subdivisions should be buying their fringe,” Kampjes said to the applause of many in the room, adding the proposed bylaw change would give people an opportunity to make more rules and regulations for farmers. The County resident said Sturgeon County was down to but two dairy farms and councillors should use caution in making their decision as any more rules could leave county residents eating Australian beef and drinking American milk.
County resident Lawrence Kluthe said no one would be at Tuesday’s hearing unless a majority of council had voted to advance the bylaw. “I have a problem with council selling us out,” Kluthe said, adding he felt farmers were being restricted. “We have become subject to an over-administered society. I think the councils of the day are not accepting their responsibility. I think at one time we had a free society where there were very few regulations, and we didn’t have 20 per cent of the population working for government.”
Kluthe said he believed the biggest problem Sturgeon County residents face is making a trip to County offices, a visit that Kluthe said always means a hand in the pocket for one fee or another. “Time is money,” Kluthe said. “Every time you delay us by the approval process you cost us money.”
Several of the bylaw’s opponents cited what they saw as a disconnect in the proposed bylaw changes whereby industrial activity was permitted in the County, even encouraged, yet small agriculture was being further regulated if they were too close to towns and subdivisions. Opponents noted a further disconnect between a County that encouraged their participation in events like the Sturgeon County Bounty and value added agriculture initiatives yet wanted to have a greater control over what they could and could not do on their lands where no such controls existed before with respect to farming.
But not all who filled the seats and lined the walls of Council Chambers were there to oppose the proposed amendments. Residents of Hewitt Estates made their concerns known, particularly as it related to a tree farm operating on their back door.
Francois Dubois said he moved from the city so his children could enjoy the county air and learn where food comes from. Dubois said the land neighbouring Hewitt Estates had been farmed agriculturally but has recently been turned into heavy industrial land under the classification of a tree farm; something he feels has created something of a wasteland out of the property.
Issues between Hewitt Estates and the tree farm operation prompted the bylaw amendment; however, many were of the opinion there should be a better way to resolve the issue than putting further regulations on all farmers who have had subdivisions pop up on lands which in some cases had been farmed for several generations.
Sturgeon County Mayor Don Rigney, in responding to concerns raised during the public hearing, said until now Urban Fringe had only required notification to neighbouring residents and the proposed bylaw would a precedent he was opposed to, namely one that makes farmers second-class citizens. Rigney said he has opposed the bylaw amendment since the beginning and that council needed to be cognizant of the need to do more good than harm in making their decision.
County Councillor Karen Shaw said the large number of people who had gathered to oppose the bylaw had given her sober second thoughts and although it prompted her to vote against third reading, she took issue with Lawrence Kluthe’s assertion councillors were not accepting their responsibilities to rate payers.
After two-and-a-half hours of hearing resident concerns, the hearing was closed and third reading was given. Council voted 6-1 against third reading. Only Councillor Joe Milliagan voted in favour, citing the discretionary designation could allow forms of agriculture currently prohibited under the existing bylaw.