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Lingering questions around Wilmot land deal, says farmland protection group


Officials with the Ontario Farmland Trust are calling for more transparency and accountability surrounding a plan to buy hundreds of acres of farmland in the Township of Wilmot.

Property owners have been fighting against the Region of Waterloo’s proposed plan to buy 770 acres of land between Nafziger Road, Bleams Road and Wilmot Centre Road.

The owners said they haven’t seen any official expropriation documents yet, but they continue to wait and worry about a future that seems uncertain.

During an interview with CTV News on Wednesday, Ontario Farmland Trust executive director Martin Straathof called for more transparency on the sale.

“We'd like to see more information on how this land was decided to be selected. Have things like agricultural impact assessments been done for this? Why this particular land? What's the motivating factor? Why the mad rush for it that's causing this kind of uncertainty? There are just so many questions that are left unanswered. When we think about expropriation that should be a fair process. Is that fair for something like the agricultural sector to have to face and feels like they're facing it on their own as well?”

Details of the deal have been sparse since the owners first learned the region wanted to buy the land to create shovel-ready sites for large-scale economic investments.

It’s not clear what those proposed plans may involve.

Some of the land the Region of Waterloo is trying to purchase in the Township of Wilmot on March, 26, 2024. (Colton Wiens/CTV Kitchener)

“It's interesting, from a lot of the criticisms that we've seen in the last couple of years with some of the decisions that are being made about taking land out of agriculture. We can point to the Greenbelt, we can point to the urban boundary expansions. I don't think now is the time for these kinds of, you know, deals that are being made that are just outside of the public view,” Straathof said. “It's creating this uncertainty and a distrust amongst our elected officials for these kinds of things to be decided this way. I just think it's both a bad time for the political climate to be making these kinds of decisions without better public information available to folks. It's not to say that these types of decisions might not be necessary. Maybe it really is necessary, but if it is, let the public know.”

Straathof also noted how vital local farms are to the agricultural sector, especially in light of recent supply chain challenges.

“This is our class one, two and three soils that are our best land for producing food and any time land is taken out of production and agriculture [it] has to move elsewhere - we're already farming where our best farmland is, which means that we're moving to more marginal land. So we might not be able to be producing the same quality or quantity of food,” he explained. “So when we're seeing these large amounts of land being taken out of agricultural production, I can't help but think about the most recent disruptions to our food supply and how this is going to end up impacting our future viability of being able to provide food for our families and our communities”

Straathof worries this kind of move could cause the cost of viable farmland to continue to soar, creating new barriers in an already struggling sector.

“These kinds of activities certainly deter people from thinking that agriculture is going to be viable, because if the government can swoop in and take the land from you, that you rely on for the food production, well, that makes agriculture very uncertain.”

MPP's petition

On Wednesday, Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife put forward a petition asking the province to pause plans to expropriate and rezone the Wilmot land.

"The government is overriding and rewriting local official plans to move urban boundaries and violate the countryside line by opening up previously protected land to development," Fife said. "[The] Waterloo regional official plan, as passed in August 2022, was accommodating all anticipated future growth until 2051 without significant boundary expansion or significant loss of farmland, and whereas the process of expropriating prime farmland in Wilmot Township has lacked transparency, with no public consultation, or information in response to concerns about how rezoning and development will affect our water resources, and whereas there is a concerning pattern of using Minister's Zoning Orders or MZOs to fast track developments that favour sprawl over sustainable growth."

She concluded by demanding an immediate pause on the expropriation and rezoning of the land "to respect the regional planning process and to prioritize environmentally-conscious sustainable development." Top Stories

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