In operation since 2016, a Woolwich on-farm business will now be operating legally, as township council last week approved a zone change to bring the property into compliance.
Noah W. Martin runs AM Custom Sales and Service, an agricultural equipment business, from a two-acre portion of his 32.2-acre farm property at 1356 Tilman Rd. Until now, the property wasn’t properly zoned to allow the business.
It was one of many the township is investigating for non-compliance – there are currently about 50 others on the radar, with many more expected to be discovered.
Manager of planning Jeremy Vink said AM Custom Sales and Service is not unique in its challenges, including improper zoning and operating in buildings that aren’t up to code. In Martin’s case, the building constructed in 2016 will need significant upgrades to meet the building code.
Operators of on-farm businesses that want to continue will have to meet many of the same requirements as businesses in, say, industrial areas. Those that can’t will either have to scale back or move the businesses elsewhere.
“It’s not a simple thing, and the costs are not cheap.”
At the February 9 council meeting, Coun. Patrick Merlihan noted there are concerns about the property – “I understand the building isn’t up to snuff” – and asked about the issue of taxes and development charges dating back to the 2016 start of the business.
Vink noted that the process approved that evening legalizes the business, but the owner then still has to make sure the building is up to industrial standards, at his own expense.
In a later interview, Vink said those kinds of issues are on the horizon for a number of on-farm businesses. In addition to some 50 locations already known to the township, officials will be actively out looking for others not in compliance with Woolwich bylaws.
“We are starting through the enforcement process of dealing with the ones we know of,” he said. “I have a feeling there are going to be a lot more of them.”
It’s not a quick process to get into conformity, from the zoning process, then site-plan agreements and then the building code.
“We are working with them as best we can.”
While many of the on-farm businesses are farm related, there is a provision for other businesses, such as dry industrial uses, as long as the footprint is no more than two per cent of the farm property.
He said the township is seeing these kinds of compliance issues with farm operators of all stripes, including Old Order Mennonites.
“They’re not alone with these issues. We’re treating everyone the same,” said Vink. “It’s not any one type. It is a rural land-use problem.”
In every case, the property owner not in compliance will have to make some decisions before embarking on the legalization process.
“They have to crunch the numbers and decide if this is worth it,” said Vink.
With its proactive approach, the township expects many more farm operators will be facing that dilemma – “there’s a 99 per cent chance were’ to find it out,” he said of businesses not in compliance, adding the township is willing to work with owners.
“We’re trying to be reasonable, but we have enforce the regulations.”