Meaford's Council has given initial approval to a zoning amendment request that would allow a proposed luxury glamping facility to be established on a 25-acre property on Sideroad 16 at Concession 12 in the heart of Meaford's agricultural community.
Though Council voted unanimously in their July 20 Committee of the Whole meeting, not all members of council were fully supportive of the proposal, and when the bylaw to amend the zoning comes before council for a final vote at their next regular meeting, a friendly amendment could be proposed that would seek to reduce the number of geodesic domes for the proposed operation from eight to four.
The proposed glamping (glamorous camping) operation has seen significant opposition from neighbouring property owners over the past several months. Concerns expressed by neighbours have ranged from fears of noise and light pollution to potential impacts on local groundwater supply. Municipal Planner Liz Buckton sought to put some of those concerns to rest when updating council on the file.
“The subject property is approximately 10.28ha (25.4 acres) in size and is presently occupied by a single detached dwelling and accessory garage,” Buckton told council in her 15-page report. “The parcel is partially wooded, with a cleared field located centrally on the lands, planted in soy by a tenant farmer, for the 2020 season. A watercourse runs through the wooded area on the west side of the parcel and a pond is located in the southeastern corner of the lot. The lot fronts onto and is accessed via 16 Side Road (16SR), with secondary frontage along the 12th line. Adjacent land uses include rural parcels that are treed or in varying forms of agricultural production, vacant rural lands, as well as a number of rural residential parcels ranging in size from approximately 4 to 6 acres and located along 16SR opposite of the subject lands and to the southwest of the property along 12th Line.”
Buckton acknowledged the opposition expressed by neighbouring residents.
“Staff appreciate and acknowledge the various public comments received that expressed care, respect and regard for the natural environment and local flora and fauna. It is clear that the local residents greatly value the health of the environment and as local stewards of land, strongly encourage that Council protect the environment from harm,” Buckton noted in her report. “Based on the detailed studies undertaken with respect to this proposal and the supportive comments of the GSCA, staff are satisfied that the scale of the proposal and the mitigation activities to be employed, will ensure that the proposed Tourist Establishment will not result in negative impacts upon the woodland or its natural features/habitat functions. Further, as evidenced by the Addendum FSR, staff are satisfied that appropriate water quantity and quality controls can be employed on the lands.”
Some members of council expressed full support for the proposal while others shared some of the concerns expressed by neighbouring residents.
“For me, this report brings another very important and very difficult decision for this council,” said Deputy Mayor Shirley Keaveney. The Deputy Mayor noted that the application meets all of the criteria required for approval, but Council must also consider the input from residents. “We have a group of individuals, mostly residing in the neighbourhood, and some who don't, who are strongly opposed to the Back Forty Glamping proposal, and these residents have justifiable concerns.”
Keaveney listed the expressed concerns that had already been addressed throughout the process.
“Noise and dust, and lights, and water security, open fires and traffic and signage, trespassing, property entrance, and so on. And these concerns are real, and certainly I share them, and they definitely pose challenges,” Keaveney said.
The Deputy Mayor asked staff if the proponent would be likely to consider reducing the number of geodesic domes included in their plans from eight to four, suggesting that some neighbouring residents had expressed greater comfort with a smaller operation.
Planner Liz Buckton told Council that the idea had been suggested to the proponent.
“The applicant has expressed that at this point in time, considering everything they have put into this project, they have indicated that at this point the eight units does represent what they feel to be a financially viable proposal,” Buckton told Council.
Councillor Steve Bartley told his fellow members of Council that he had been opposed to the proposal, however his position had changed.
“I can support this, and here's why. I was against this originally, but I've been up to visit the property, and I don't believe for a minute that anybody is going to hear or see anything on that property,” Bartley told Council. “I have my own farm, it's kind of like a wildlife sanctuary, I have every bird and animal that the neighbours have there, we have ATVs, family, and people on our property daily, we don't chase them away.”
Councillor Tony Bell told council that he has significant concerns with the proposal.
“One of the aspects which I have not read in this report, to me is very serious, and it has to do with farming neighbours who have cattle,” Bell told Council, adding that he is concerned that visitors to the glamping site might interfere with area cattle farms. Bell also expressed a fear that in the future, visitors to the glamping site and its operators would raise objections to odours emanating from neighbouring farms. “I will not entertain for a second should this be approved by Council that they come before Council in the future and say, 'It's July, it's August, it's the best time, but now I have to put up with the smell of spread manure, they are wrecking my business'.” Bell suggested that the proponents sign a document acknowledging that they are establishing a business in an agricultural area, and as a result may be exposed to agricultural sounds and odours.
Another concern expressed during the meeting was the loss of potential farmland. Councillor Paul Vickers, a farmer himself, lamented the continued erosion of agricultural land throughout the province.
“My point is that we continue, and not just in the Municipality of Meaford, but all across Ontario, we continually reduce the amount of farmland that we allow people to farm,” Vickers said. “We really do owe our lives to the top six inches of soil, and six inches of rain in the growing season. So it is my concern that we are continuously eroding the amount of agricultural land.”
Unlike some of the agriculturally zoned properties neighbouring the proposed glamping operation, the property is zoned 'Rural' and 'Environmental Protection', allowing for more flexibility in potential property uses.
Vickers characterized the proposed glamping operation as an 'eight room hotel', and he questioned its suitability in an agricultural area.
“I know it's only a 25-acre lot, 10 acres of it is a field right now, and I do believe there are soy beans growing, so almost half of his land is devoted to agriculture, and now he is saying that if this is approved, he wants to take that land out of agriculture production and turn it into trees, he wants to plant trees,” said Vickers. “Maybe that's not a big deal to a lot of people, but it happens over and over again, not just in the Municipality of Meaford, but in all municipalities.”
While some members of Council shared concerns with the proposal, others offered full support.
“I will be voting to support the motion,” Councillor Ross Kentner told Council. “As a Council we've made growing our economy the focus of our strategic priorities, and in supporting the staff recommendation I'm supporting our Official Plan which recognizes that the pillars of tourism and agriculture are intertwined in a rural economy, and I just don't think that we can have it any other way.”
Prior to calling the vote, Mayor Barb Clumpus offered some thoughts of her own.
“Certainly I understand, and fully appreciate farmers, the industry, and who's going to feed us down the way, but I'm interested in growing our economy and introducing young people into our community as well,” Clumpus said.
In spite of some lingering concerns, most of which can be addressed during the site plan approval phase of the process, members of Council voted unanimously in favour of the staff recommendation to “enact a by-law to amend Zoning By-law 60-2009 of the Municipality of Meaford pertaining to 145166 16 Side Road”, though Councillor Vickers indicated a desire to propose an amendment that would limit the number of geodesic domes on the property to four rather than the proposed eight. That amendment can be proposed at Council's next meeting when the bylaw is before Council for final approval.