Land Use Policies Should Reflect Reality

“We don’t want to be reorganized to fit the sewage system.”

– DAVE YOUNG, LOCAL RESIDENT

Can land be considered farmland if it hasn’t been farmed for years? Ask Dave Young.

Young sees vast expanses of “derelict” farmland in the Rural Municipality of Reynolds in eastern Manitoba, where he lives.

But the Canada Land Inventory still rates the land as suitable for agriculture. And Young knows landowners who get education tax rebates for farmland they don’t actually farm.

That’s one of the anomalies Young feels a provincial land use policy review currently underway should address. He believes authorities should stop treating land as something it isn’t and develop policies based on reality.

“We’re living with fiction here,” Young said during a May 7 land use policy workshop.

New land use policies proposed by Manitoba Intergovernmental Affairs suggest designating agricultural land according to two categories: prime agricultural land and viable lower-class land. Prime land would be protected for agricultural use. Lower-class land would be protected, too, except local municipalities would have flexibility in allowing it to be used for other purposes.

But Young called for more clar ity in deciding if land should be classed agricultural in the first place.

He argued the Canada Land Inventory maps, created during the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s, are sometimes flat-out wrong and do not reflect the land’s productivity.

Bob Grodzik, a Manitoba Intergovernmental Affairs senior policy planner who chaired the meeting, said the province is trying to get closer to what’s happening on the ground in developing land use policies.

Last week’s meeting wrapped up a series of workshops held throughout Manitoba to get public input on the proposals.

The government is reviewing provincial land use policies under new Planning Act regulations.

Municipalities are required to prepare development plans to designate local land use areas while still satisfying provincial interests.

Public land use policies will be applied with discretion, e. g., more strictly in areas with denser populations and more flexibly in less populated areas, Grodzik stressed.

But some at the meeting said they still sensed the heavy hand of government at work.

Young objected to a phrase in a discussion paper saying land usage outside urban centres should be “designated to reduce scattered development and encourage strategic planning.

“People in so-called scattered areas may prefer to live there and don’t want to be ‘reduced’ to satisfy a strategic plan,” he said.

“We don’t want to be reorganized to fit the sewage system.”

Others expressed concern about limiting subdivisions on prime agricultural land to 80 acres.

“Why not allow a farmer to subdivide and give lots to his kids?” asked Curtis Buley, a cattle farmer near Ste. Rita in the R. M. of Reynolds.

The meet ing noted that municipalities next to Winnipeg, including East St. Paul, West St. Paul and St. Clements are fragmented with small residential subdivisions. Many occurred before 1980, when the province began introducing land use policies.

Oakbank, just east of Winnipeg in the R. M. of Springfield, has become “the Mississauga of Manitoba” for people making the daily commute into the city, Buley said.

Grodzik agreed a lot of prime farmland was lost to such development, including market gardens which once thrived in the area.

Although it’s too late to do anything about that now, the province is trying to preserve agricultural land for the future, he said. [email protected]

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