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Council pushes forward with TCT route, adjacent owners to be part of process

Posted April 15, 2014

New Tecumseth councillors voted 8-2 last night in favour of an amended motion that pinpoints the Town-owned abandoned rail corridor (ARC), which is proposed to include an easement crossing WD Potato property, as the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) between the 9th Line to the Innisfil boundary, "in consultation with" adjacent landowners along the route.

Deputy mayor Rick Milne, who supported the motion last week, joined Ward 5 councillor Donna Jebb, in opposing the recommendation, which includes a provision to negotiate agreements with the landowners setting out "reasonable" mitigation measures - that could include fencing, ditching, berms, landscaping - at the Town's expense.

Council support grew from last week's (edited from original post) vote in committee (councillors, Fran Sainsbury, and Jim Stone were opposed to original motion last week) following Town solicitor Jay Feehely's opinion that farmer concerns about minimum distance separation (MDS) provisions in the zoning bylaw, do not apply in the strictest sense in this case because the TCT is not considered "development."

The MDS, said Mr. Feehely, is intended to minimize the conflict between livestock facilities and development.

"In the number of times I've dealt with the concept of development, the use of a corridor for a walking area or whatever, in my opinion just wouldn't amount to development. If it does, then we can't even put a trail along the roadway, because you're going to be even closer to potential farm land," he said. "I just don't see that it (MDS) was ever intended to interpret development to that level that we would not be able to use it (ARC) in a sort of passive structure. It's effectively a transportation corridor, or traditionally it has been that."\

Mr. Feehely suggested that while there is no case to cite, nor a specific definition of "development" he would argue "in front an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) panel, this just simply is not development to which this would apply."

"I've done a lot of these hearings involving the MDS, and almost always they're dealing with impacts that are going to result from development in the truest sense: somebody's going to build a house or build some facility in which people are going to have some permanent basis there. I just don't see that this would be defined as development in my opinion."

In reply, to Ms. Jebb's question as to whether the trail could affect the farmer's ability to expand, Mr. Feehely concluded it wouldn't, because the MDS would be a factor regardless of what the ARC is used for.

"So when you're doing an expansion, the (MDS) formula requires you to input all of the data up to the boundary line. We're just one boundary line. Every farm operation, whether it abuts the rail corridor or another neighbour, no matter what that neighbour does, you have to take into account those boundary lines," he said. "And in any event, when it comes to expansion, the criteria is even more flexible because (MDS) talks about 'would reasonably impact on development.' I don't see how an expansion would impact reasonably or otherwise on the rail corridor if we're using it as a trail. It's just not development."

Mr. Feehely explained too that if council for whatever reason rejected an application for an expansion adjacent to the TCT, "my opinion to the Town would be, we're nuts, we wouldn't make that argument."

"I've never had to argue this particular one, but I'm pretty much in tune with how these things get presented to the board, and what gets taken into account and at the end of the day, I don't see that we would be arguing against any farmer expanding or starting up an operation on the basis that he was impacting on our quote, 'development,' because we would be the ones that can stop it. And if you as council voted to try and stop a farmer from expanding, well, than it would go in front of the board, but I think it would be a foolish position for the council to take."

With the trail route selected, the process now turns to negotiating the easement with Walter Davidson of WD Potato, and the design of the trail, and further discussions, including securing agreements with the adjacent landowners.

Ray Osmond, Director of Parks, Recreation and Culture, told councillors last night they will now proceed with planning and designing the trail.

"We've talked to all the landowners, we have the issues, we know we've got to plant trees, we have to put up fences, we've got to put in ways of getting the water line across the trails, it goes back to being a good neighbour to a certain degree. We can not build a trail, design the final trail, without continued consultation with the landowners," said Mr. Osmond. "Some want fences, some don't want fences. Some want signage, some don't want signs, so it depends how you look at each individual property. This section is where most of our farmers are that we're impacting. We're here to work with the landowners. We don't want to bulldoze right through."

Barring any further delays, it's expected work on the trail would being this year. The goal, said Mr. Osmond, is to have most, if not all of the remaining sections completed by 2017, when the federal funding program expires.

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