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Old Order group seeks zone change for church on farm north of Elmira

After a church of their own, a group of Old Order Mennonites is looking to relocate from an Elmira meeting place to an on-farm location north of town.

To that end, Eli and Ellen Martin have filed a zone-change application to permit the construction of a church and cemetery on a 2.8-acre portion of their 96-acre property at 1775 Arthur St. N. The request was the subject of a public meeting during a Woolwich council session December 11.

Representing the applicants, Bob Black of RBA Planning Consultants notes the goal is to provide a new location away from the core of Elmira.

The congregation currently alternates use of the space at 68 Church St. W. with the Markham Mennonite Conference, so the proposed new site would not only allow weekly meetings but would also be safer for horse-drawn buggies, he told councillors.

Traffic concerns on Church Street have only got worse since a median was installed by the region when the road was recently reconstructed, Black argued, noting the proposed new site, fronting on Tilman Road, would be a better fit for buggy traffic.

“It would be accessible by buggy trails … avoiding main roads.”

The new site is adjacent to the existing parochial school at 1560 Tilman Rd.

Along with dedicating a porting of the agricultural property for the church and cemetery, the zone change would also use a less-restrictive designation for determining the minimum distance separation (MDS) between the institutional use and the adjacent livestock operation, explained director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley.

Pointing to the township’s longstanding concerns about property taxes applied to such church locations, Coun. Patrick Merlihan noted there would be tax implications.

While churches and cemeteries are typically exempt from taxation, many of the Old Order churches created on farms, as is the case with this application, continue to be subjected to taxes. The township can’t change that unilaterally, and has raised the issue at the regional and provincial levels, to no avail thus far.

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