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Wellesley eyes changes to rules governing on-farm businesses

Reviewing guidelines governing on-farm businesses, Wellesley council is still feeling its way around possible restrictions on the number of employees.

The township this week looked at a zoning amendment proposed to limit the number of employees on a farm-based secondary business to five, changing the bylaw which currently allows two non-farm workers to be employed at any given time.

At the Nov. 2 council meeting, planner Geoff Vanderbaaren, presented changes made to zoning bylaws surrounding secondary buildings on farm properties in the township.

“The township now allows for farmers to have supplemental businesses, so we were changing some of the rules in the zoning bylaw,” said Vanderbaaren. “I am now preparing a bylaw for council to adopt at the next meeting.”

One of those changes to be added to the bylaw for a vote next meeting is how many employees a farm is allowed to have at one time.

The current bylaw allows for a maximum of two off-farm employees, and after some discussion, council asked Vanderbaaren about changing the wording to allow for five employees at any given time, regardless of whether the employee is a member of the family or an outside hire.

During his presentation to council, Vanderbaaren shared his recommendations taken from discussion with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

“What they are saying is that they don’t think a municipality can regulate the number of employees,” he said at the meeting. “It is similar to how we can’t regulate the number of non-related people living in a house.”

Coun. Carl Smit didn’t understand why OMAFRA wouldn’t allow the limitation of employees on a farm. If regulations can cover one aspect of a farming operation, why not the other?

“I don’t get why we can’t limit the number of employees,” he said. “(The secondary business) is only supposed to supplement their income. If we can limit the size of the property, or limit the size of the footprint of the buildings, why can’t we limit the number of employees?”

Vanderbaaren likened it to municipalities regulating the physical use of a property, but not being able to regulate activity on that property.

“A situation where we allow for a manufacturing business, but we don’t specifically say you can’t do welding in your property,” he answered. “We can only regulate certain things within the bylaw. It becomes a Charter of Rights and Freedoms Issue. If we get any kind of appeal or anything on that, then we would be on shaky ground to defend it.”

Coun. Shelley Wagner echoed Smit.

“I agree with Carl. I think the original intent was to supplement their farming business and if they need that many more employees, that is no longer a business that is meant to supplement, it is now the primary,” she said.

Township chief administrative officer Rik Louwagie wanted to make it clear to councillors that limiting the number of employees could end up a legal matter.

“What it really comes down to, is council really willing to defend this in court if it ever goes there. It kind of goes somewhat against a provincial policy,” he said. “One thing that we did get from our solicitors is that we can’t regulate between family and non-family employees. That portion definitely needs to come out, but you can still put a number in, as long as council is ready to defend it.”

Smit suggested that was the best option.

“I would be willing to go up to five employees that would take into account family and non-family,” he said.

When it came to the vote, the amendment was defeated, with changes to the draft bylaw expected at the next council meeting.

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