The Township of North Dundas held a public meeting to discuss some proposed zoning amendments, including a change that would see the minimum amount of land required to own livestock jump from 5 acres in the former Mountain Township, to 20 acres. This move would match the zoning requirements from the former Township of Winchester. Any zoning by-law amendments require a public meeting, and that the notice of the public meeting be posted 20 days prior to the meeting. In this instance, the notice of the public meeting was posted on the Township’s website, and in the Chesterville Record on March 18.
The meeting drew a great deal of interest on social media, and many concerned residents in the area of the former Mountain Township contacted the Township office prior to the meeting to comment on the proposed changes, or to register to speak at the meeting. The meeting was held virtually on Zoom, and streamed on the Township’s Facebook site. The proposed zoning amendments were outlined and explained by Calvin Pol, Director of Planning, Building, and By-law Enforcement. It quickly became apparent that the Council had no desire to push through the controversial zoning change, and was quite willing to table this section of the amendment. Calvin spoke to some of the questions and comments that had been submitted by the community prior to the meeting. Land use is grandfathered in law, meaning that even if zoning does change, the land can continue to be used for the same purpose. There is no separate category for “Hobby Farm” in Ontario land use legislation. Any proposed zoning amendments would not affect a landowner’s ability to grow and harvest; the by-law only concerned livestock. People who have purchased land in the hopes of having a small acreage would have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
When it came time in the meeting for the Mayor and Councillors to speak, they all supported the idea of holding a public meeting and discussion in the future, at a time when the COVID-19 restrictions and pandemic lockdowns are lifted, so residents can bring their ideas forward. Calvin, the Mayor and Councillors, stated they would like to see agriculture organizations, such as Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), and Dundas Federation of Agriculture (DFA), at the table to help inform a discussion going forward. The purpose of the amendments was purportedly to make the zoning the same across the entire Township. The Mountain Township by-law that stipulated five acres was the minimum land required for livestock in 1979. The Winchester Township by-law that prescribed 20 acres was passed in 1993. Amalgamation that joined Winchester, Chesterville, Winchester Township, and Mountain Township occurred in 1998. Alongside the OFA and the DFA, some indicated they would like to see some small-size market gardeners at the table to provide input. Some stressed that bio-diversity is important. Increasingly, faced with questions about food security and vulnerable supply chains, people are looking to grow a bit of their own food. Housing and land price increases have been dramatic since the beginning of the pandemic, with many people leaving the bigger cities or suburbs in hopes of having an acre or two of land. Some at the meeting mentioned animal units, or nutrient units, indicating how many animals a property could support. Although some townships are looking at allowing backyard chickens, chickens on small town properties in North Dundas are not permitted, based on zoning. Those who are keeping chickens at the moment, remain for the most part, unchallenged, as long as there are no complaints. North Dundas may be able to lead the way to encouraging small farms. Deputy Mayor Al Armstrong notes that “people can do amazing things with smaller lots.” He suggests that, we, as a Township, “take whatever amount of time it takes” to work together and get a decent by-law.