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Mitchell tries again

Jan 19, 2012

Defeated councillor Dave Mitchell is making another attempt to obtain a severance for his Binbrook property. His first try collapsed four years ago and earned Mitchell a public rebuke from his council colleagues when it was revealed that he was privately lobbying some of them despite publicly declaring a conflict of interest.

His 2007 severance attempt won approval from the Committee of Adjustment, but was appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board by the city’s planning department with support from the full council. The latest attempt has also gotten an okay from the city’s Committee of Adjustment – but by the narrowest of margins.

The minutes show only three of the nine Committee of Adjustment members endorsing Mitchell’s application last November. The minutes of this committee never show who voted against an application, but committee quorum is five so it appears the vote on this matter was 3-2. Other decisions reported from the same day – both before and after the Mitchell item – show support from as many as seven committee members.

After controversy erupted over Mitchell’s lobbying activities, he informed the OMB that he was withdrawing the application. That generated an OMB official decision supporting the appeal and refusing consent to Mitchell’s severance application.  

The planning department is again appealing the committee’s decision, but Mitchell appears prepared to pursue the matter. His agent, John Ariens of IBI Group planning consultants has asked to speak to the planning committee meeting when it is asked to endorse the staff decision to appeal Mitchell’s severance.

In his December 19 letter Ariens says he will address “the merits of the severance” and urge support for the Committee of Adjustment decision. He notes that urged that it be denied and “have initiated an Ontario Municipal Board appeal.”

At issue is a second house on Mitchell’s Guyatt Road property that was constructed on the understanding that it was a ‘farm help house’ that would have to be removed when no longer needed. Planning staff argue that severing it to create a new property is against both city and provincial rules established to protect foodlands.

“Policy [of the Official Plan] states that the creation of new residential lots in prime agricultural areas shall not be permitted except… as a result of a farm consolidation,” states a staff report prepared for the previous severance attempt. “As there is no consolidation of farm parcels under this proposal, the proposed severance is contradictory to the policies of the Provincial Policy Statement.”

The report also contended Mitchell’s application violated the provincial Greenbelt plan and the Glanbrook Official Plan – where Mitchell was a councillor for over twenty years.

The creation of new residential lots in agricultural areas has long been seen as problematic because of the loss of farmland and the suburbanization of rural areas that increases car dependence, pollutes groundwater and often subjects farmers to complaints from urbanites uncomfortable with nearby agricultural practices.

The problem is acute in Hamilton where only five percent of the rural population “live in households supported by income from agriculture or other rural industries” according to a 2005 report prepared by city planning staff. It noted that many studies had confirmed that severances of farm help houses had been “widely abused” in rural areas.

 “The overwhelming majority of ‘farm’ severance lots created in Ontario have immediately been sold to new owners with no substantive relationship to farming,” says the report. “Even when lots start out to be used for legitimate farm purposes, the new dwelling will inevitably be sold for non-farm interests.”

Mitchell lost his council seat to Brenda Johnson in the 2010 elections. He was subsequently barred from seeking re-election in 2014 because he failed to file the required campaign financial statements. More recently his attempts to win forgiveness of $5000 in excess expenses run up while he was in office were rejected by 11-5 by council.

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