11/22/2016 17:43 EST | Updated 11/23/2017 00:12 EST

Ottawa property owners concerned about farmland protection changes

Ottawa is redesignating parcels of land across to protect prime farmland, and that's left property owners challenging new limits to what they'll be able to do with their land.

The Ontario Municipal Board required the city to update its 20-year-old system for evaluating land, known as LEAR, to reflect changes in farming and soil mapping.

Now, the city has assigned scores to properties based on the soil's quality for farming and followed up by making on-site visits and taking aerial photos.

Some 300 property owners were sent notices in recent weeks alerting them their land could change from general rural to an agricultural area, or vice versa.

On Tuesday, councillors heard stories from players big and small, all affected in different ways, from housing developers with fields on the edge of suburbia to a Constance Bay resident with a woodworking and pottery studio who's concerned he won't be able to ply his craft on land deemed a farm.

'I don't want my rights infringed upon'

Tony Faranda was shocked to learn the city thinks his 200 acres in the Munster area should no longer be labelled simply "general rural."

"You can grow hay on it. That's not prime farmland," he said.

Faranda, who's a carpenter, said he's been losing sleep thinking the redesignation could limit his options on his own property.

"I'd probably sever a lot for each child in the future. That's my intention — nothing bigger. But I also don't want my rights infringed upon. It's not fair if it's not prime farmland," Faranda said.

He said he's hired an expert to do independent testing of the soil to fight the new designation.

Protecting farmland more important than housing, councillor says

On the other hand, a parcel at the edge of Orléans at Trim and Innes roads has been scored lower than in the past and can become general rural area rather than an agricultural area, staff noted.

​Meanwhile, Cardel Homes went to city hall Tuesday to ask the city to consider downgrading land it owns at the edge of Riverside South, where it plans a subdivision, from agricultural area to general rural. 

But Coun. Scott Moffatt said there's little chance that will happen because the soil on that Rideau Road parcel is excellent.

The city thinks differently now about farmland, he said.

"We saw growth, between Kanata and Stittsville that looks like it's really good farmland. The policies didn't exist to protect the farmland, and now we're working harder to protect the prime agricultural farmland," said Moffatt.

Moffatt said if the city's going to grow — and the city projects it will need another 130,000 dwellings over the next 20 years to accommodate a population of 1.2 million in 2036 — it will have to happen on marginal soil, not prime farmland.