Doubling ag-parcel minimum to 40 acres deemed a mistake
Mountain View County council’s proposed doubling of the minimum agricultural parcel size from 20 to 40 acres is a step in the wrong direction, said a former deputy reeve who now acts as a private agent for subdivision and rezoning applicants.
“I would speak strongly against it going to 40 acres – I would rather it be a 20-acre minimum,” David Derksen said at the outset of his presentation during the June 27 Municipal Development Plan public hearings.
Twenty-acre lots, Derksen said, meet the needs of both retiring farmers who want to keep their land in the family and a growing number of people concerned about their food source.
“There is a demand to go back to the land for sustaining themselves, and on a 20-acre parcel you don’t have to go bigger than that,” Derksen said.
“In my line of work it’s the biggest request.”
Div. 1 Coun. Kevin Good asked Derksen how many 20-acre parcels had been created in the past where “the dream has never come to fruition or it’s just too much work … and it doesn’t happen.”
“Where the most unhappiness comes is in the five-acre plus,” Derksen replied. “They get messy and they get tired of it and it falls apart. That’s where I see the biggest problem – five to seven acres. Anything over 10 acres, people … keep it pretty clean.”
Derksen said his second concern was dollars and cents.
“I am concerned, ladies and gentlemen, that we don’t put so many controls on people’s rights that we stagnate growth and they have to move somewhere else.”
Landowner Ray Hamel objected to the new MDP’s five-year ownership condition for multi-lot subdivision, saying it should treat inheritance and transfers to company ownership as equal to current ownership.
County lawyer Sheila McNaughtan confirmed that changing title to a company holding “would be seen as a change” in ownership and would therefore fall under the five-year provision.
“I can’t address the appropriateness of the provision … (but) to me it does raise some concerns from a legal perspective,” McNaughtan said.
Div. 1 Kevin Good asked McNaughtan to suggest wording “to have family members be included.”
What is farmland?
Ken Trout, whose property lies one kilometre south of Didsbury, said he was troubled by the lack of a clear definition for farmland.
“Everyone talks about farmland … and puts their hand over their heart (but) this pure vision of farmland is a myth,” Trout said.
Trout said he believes about half of the land value is based on speculation rather than its use as productive farmland.
David Doyle concluded his presentation by making a similar point, noting that land that sells near Torrington for $250,000 will sell for $1 million if it has highway access and $2.4 million if it is situated in a growth centre.
Ray Anderson, a Didsbury town councillor who said he was “speaking for myself,” warned council about the risk of sewage contamination from high-density residential development, citing one case where residents “showered in effluent.”
“If residential infrastructure was self-sustaining, why do municipalities go to government for infrastructure money?” Anderson asked. “I don’t know why the county would want to go to high-density residential.”
Several presenters urged council to hold developers accountable and asked, in reference to Netook Crossing, whether the county should manage a town that will eventually be annexed by Olds.
Others argued that the higher densities contained in the Netook North concept plan would be a better strategy for preserving agricultural land than allowing acreage development over large sections of the county.
“Do you want 160 one-acre lots on one quarter or 160 two-acre lots all over the county?” asked Ben Misener, a county resident and Olds College student.
Following Misener’s presentation, Rural Roots co-founder Royden Anderson said he was “disturbed by what’s being taught in urban planning. They don’t get it.”
Anderson urged council not to let the county be taken over by a city mindset.
“If the wrong decisions are made today we’ll lose our agricultural voice … We do not want to put cattle in a developer’s backyard, so don’t put people in ours,” Anderson said.
In his opening presentation on the revised MDP, consultant Cam Lang noted that designating areas of the county for potential multi-lot residential development was “certainly not a guarantee that subdivision would be approved” in those areas.