Sturgeon County farmers say that the county’s new land-use bylaw could have dire consequences for agri-business.
County council will hold a public hearing next Tuesday on its proposed new land-use bylaw.
It’s the first comprehensive rewrite of the law in about 20 years, and has been in the works for about two years.
This law affects every piece of property in the county and regulates what residents can do with their land, said county current planning and development services manager Clayton Kittlitz.
Among the many proposed changes are new rules for agri-business.
The bylaw defines agri-business as an accessory use to farming that brings additional visitors to a farm. It includes on-farm sales, nurseries, market gardens and petting zoos, but excludes abbatoirs, agricultural product processing, restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts and home-based businesses.
The proposed rules require county administration to set out hours of operation for agri-business and lists 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends and statutory holidays as guidelines.
Tam Andersen of Prairie Gardens & Adventure Farm near Bon Accord said she was “absolutely amazed” that the county would consider this change, as most of her customers worked during these weekday hours.
“It completely removes my customer base,” she said, and could drive customers to big-box stores.
“We’re definitely very concerned about this.”
Andersen said the changes also took away their autonomy to look after their crops and livestock. While the county’s website said that this law would not affect extensive agricultural or livestock operations, Andersen said the law as written appears to ban her from doing anything related to her agri-business after 6 p.m.
“Am I breaking the law if I feed my animals or water my plants after 6?”
The short answer is no, Kittlitz said. The suggested hours of operation, which he admitted had been put into the draft as a starting point and may need adjustment, regulate when a farm can be open to customers, not when farmers can do farm-work.
“Think about it like a store,” he explained – just as Walmart can restock its shelves while its doors are closed, so could an agri-business owner tend to their crops.
Michiel Verheul, owner of High Q Greenhouses near Morinville, said that this bylaw infringed on Albertans’ right to farm.
“We can’t have these rights taken away.”
Verheul argued that local food was a growing movement, and that if Sobey’s in Morinville could sell potatoes after 6 p.m., farmers should be allowed to do the same.
He criticized the law for leaving hours of operation up to the development officer, noting that future administrations could strictly apply the suggested guidelines.
Andersen said this law worked against the county’s efforts to promote value-added agriculture and keep people on the family farm.
“This bylaw is not helpful.”
Andersen was more supportive of the bylaw’s plan to let farmers build permanent secondary dwellings on farms, as this would help parents pass on farms to their kids.
The bylaw also proposes to allow secondary suites, duplexes and mixed-use development in some residential areas.
The bylaw will also make it easier to get permits for certain accessory buildings, Kittlitz said. The current law requires discretionary use permits from the municipal planning commission for accessory buildings, which can take two weeks. The new one lets you get a permitted use permit from the development officer instead if your building is related to a permitted use, which is much quicker. You could get such a permit for a shed for your house in a residential zone (as housing is a permitted use), for example, but not for a welding shed for a home-based business (as business is a discretionary use).
The bylaw features overlays that add additional rules to lands if they are near heavy industry, resource extraction or environmentally sensitive zones, Kittlitz said. Instead of specific zoning for, say, farmland next to the Sturgeon River, the bylaw zones these areas as agricultural and lets the county apply a development constraint overlay to it, which would render all use of that land subject to county approval.
The public hearing runs from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 28 in county council chambers with a second session planned on March 28 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. The draft law is available at sturgeoncounty.ca.