By Tim Kalinowski
Council voted to approve a new land use designation in Cypress County by a narrow margin last Tuesday. The newly minted Rural Commercial District will allow agricultural land, at the discretion of the municipal planning commission, to be redesignated to allow for limited business growth and development. Essentially, it would make it easier to create a medium scale retail or commercial operation on an existing farm or acreage.
The reason the new category was recommended by county officials was there was no middle category in existing rural development bylaws between the one person contractor or home business, the so-called home occupancy commercial operation, and larger scale light and heavy industrial commercial operations.
Reeve Richard Oster felt the new designation was definitely needed, and reminded councillors the municipal planning commission would still have to approve applicants. Council as a whole would also have to vote to allow an existing farm operation to be re-zoned in this way. He felt these checks and balances would give the county a lot of discretion to approve or reject based on the merits of each case.
“This (Rural Commercial District) is intended to help prepare the way for more business development in the county, which we have all talked about before as something we want,” said Oster.
Coun. Garry Lentz said such businesses were already springing up all over the area anyway. He liked the fact the new designation would give the county a greater element of control in such cases.
“They are out there already,” said Lentz. “We’ve got contractors, truckers and garages operating out there in the county, and a lot of them are not even registered as a home occupancy. So I think this would make sense and maybe we’d have a little more control over some of that that is going on.”
However a strong minority of councillors led by Deputy Reeve Darcy Geigle thought existing agricultural land must be protected from such a designation. Geigle pointed to the fact the municipal planning commission already has discretionary powers to make exceptions and allow for some commercial development on farm land. He was concerned that by creating such a rural commercial district designation there would be more pressure to allow for greater commercial exploitation of agricultural land in the county, agricultural land which is already under intense pressure in that regard throughout the area.
“I have a funny feeling if you build this district they will come. And once the land is subdivided, you are never getting it back to agricultural land,” said Geigle.
Geigle then asked for a recorded vote.
Reeve Oster and Couns. Belyea, Lentz, Hamilton and Pahl voted to create the Rural Commercial District designation. Couns. Geigle, Vossler, Mudie and Squire voted against it.