From David Daniels via Voices of Wolfville: emphases are, however, ours
PRESERVATION OF AGRICULTURAL LAND
On May 6th the Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) reviewed Part 7 (Parks, Open Space and Recreation) and Part 11 (Agriculture) of the Town’s new Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS) Draft 3. About twenty-five residents attended the meeting.
The discussion on the issue of whether to preserve agricultural land on the east and west ends of Town, which are now zoned residential, for agricultural use highlighted shortcomings in the ongoing review process: information is lacking and there needs to be more reasoned discussion during the review process.
The first thing of note was that there did not appear to be any farmers in attendance or owners of land with agricultural capability. Had they been notified that the PAC meeting would be discussing their properties?
Preservation of lands with agricultural capability is a stated Provincial Interest and Wolfville residents considered the loss of agricultural areas in the Town to be a “significant”. P. 15, Report of the Community Circles: An Interim Report of the Wolfville Sustainability Initiative, July 2006. At the December 5, 2006 and January 3, 2007 Sustainability Task Force meetings the suggestion was made that agricultural lands be rezoned to agricultural use was discussed.
Audience members gave reasons in support of rezoning agricultural lands to agricultural use: an express Provincial Interest is to preserve agricultural land; loss of agricultural land adversely impacts the aesthetic and rural character of the Town, with particular emphasis on the Kenny property; allowing the residential development of these lands runs counter to sustainability: grow food locally; if new residential developments are permitted, new infrastructure would be required to be built, again counter to MPS’s sustainability principles; and there is no assurance farmlands beyond Wolfville’s boundaries will be protected.
One member of the audience pointed out that there has never been a proper discussion with residents about the desired population of the Town. This issue was especially relevant that night in view of the likelihood that the major increase in the Town’s population will come from large-scale residential development on the agricultural land on the east and west ends of town. I also suggested that if the lands in question were not rezoned to agricultural use, that at least a greenbelt be created.
Of the eight PAC members present (Elizabeth Kosters was absent) four did not say anything (that I can recall) on this important issue. Those who spoke all were in favour of continuing to allow residential development on lands with agricultural capability. The reasons/responses given were: the position of those in favour of rezoning to agricultural use is inconsistent with the position not to rezone the R1 residential to R1A; residents living near Kenny’s farm who wished to preserve it should buy the land themselves; the Town cannot afford to buy the land; and rezoning the land to agricultural use would not be fair to farmers since it would deprive them of their “pensions”.
The PAC unanimously recommended to the Town Council that the agricultural lands retain their residential zoning.
The comments by PAC members addressed few of the issues raised by the public. The “discussion” was in some respects like two ships passing in the night.
The key issue of whether the Town should aim for a desired population, and if so, what that number should be was not discussed that night, and to my knowledge, this essential question has never been addressed in the MPS drafting process.
There was a direct response to the claim of inconsistency: if there had been assurances that agricultural lands would be protected, increased density in developed areas of the Town might have been acceptable.
Why shouldn’t nearby residents purchase the Kenny farm? A fair question which needed a response. Who benefits from preserving farmland? The town as a whole? Only nearby residents? Is the Town preserving farmland analogous to the Town purchasing parkland? Perhaps not, since a park can be used by all residents?
Is it unfair to the landowners, the farmers, if their land is devalued by a rezoning? Based upon the principles of sustainability, the MPS until recently had proposed the rezoning of R1 to R1A, with the potential to lower property values.
Facts were in short supply. How did the PAC know the Town couldn’t afford to purchase agricultural land? I heard no sales prices mentioned. What is the interest rate on long terms bonds which might be used to finance the purchase. Numbers needed to be crunched. (Later, the PAC stated that it did not take into account financial factors in making its recommendations.)
Are there alternatives so that the land can be continued to be farmed, or at least the capability retained, and the farmers can “cash out” or partially “cash out”? Some sort of purchase and leaseback? Since preserving agricultural land is a Provincial Interest, is there any Provincial or Federal money available to further this interest? More facts would have helped in the discussion.
What should have been done, and perhaps still can be done in time for the Town Council’s review of the entire MPS, is to have planning staff prepare an analysis of the different positions for and against rezoning to agricultural use, informed by facts and information about how other municipalities are attempting to preserve lands with agricultural potential. This general approach might also be useful when discussing other controversial issues so that a focused and an informed public engagement may take place.
David A. Daniels
May 13, 2008
Our comment? We pay staff to answer these kinds of questions and to do the proper background work. But it is up to Council to require them to do this work. Without direction, staff, no matter how highly paid, have no questions to answer. The council must be held responsible.