Tom Martin and Diane Dubois
Diane Dubois isn’t kidding herself. She realizes that her presentation at Central Elgin Council’s online Zoom meeting on Tuesday is not likely to generate the desired response from elected officials.
Politicians and civil servants – even some of her neighbours – have already told Dubois they are bound by a non-disclosure agreement and prevented by contract from sharing details about ‘mega plans’ to build an 800-acre industrial park in northeast St. Thomas.
But Dubois and her husband Tom Martin fear the industrial park – proposed by the City of St. Thomas and the St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation – not only threatens some of Southwestern Ontario’s best farmland, but also a treasure trove of wetlands and woodlots, and they want answers.
Among her questions for elected officials: “What are you doing? What are your discussions with St. Thomas? What does Central Elgin get out of this? What happens to our tax base?
“It seems like it’s being bamboozled,” she added. “There’s too much secrecy.” Dubois and Martin operate a 400-acre, mixed crops farm at 45254 Edgeware Line, in Central Elgin. They will represent a ratepayers group called Concerned Citizens Against the St. Thomas Land Grab – alongside Stephen Greydanus and Jeff Davis – at the July 19 2022 meeting.
“We are a farm abutting the proposed 800-acre land grab (and) nobody can say anything to us,” added Dubois. “The neighbours on the other side of Yarmouth Centre Road have sold. Of course, they can’t talk about it either.
“We all knew there would be development within the city limits,” said Dubois. “This took everybody by surprise because we’ve heard that 600 of the 800 acres are in Central Elgin.
“Now there are all sorts of rumours going around. There’s certainly lots of marginal land in Central Elgin that could be used before we start using our Class 1 agricultural farmland.”
Urban development claims an average of 175 acres of productive farmland every day, according to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA). With Ontario’s average farm size being 249 acres, that’s a loss of five family farms a week. Only five per cent, or 13.3 million acres, of Ontario’s 266-million-acre land mass is suitable for farming.
“We are aware of the concerns,” said Sean Dyke, Chief Executive Officer at St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation.
“Those are all items that we can’t discuss right now as we are in the land acquisition process and the deals haven’t closed yet,” added Dyke. “We have reached agreements with the landowners for over 800 acres of land, but that is all that we can say at this time. Some of that land is in St. Thomas.
“This land acquisition and subsequent anticipated investment will provide huge new, generational, opportunities for the entire region and we are excited to work with all of our partners,” said Dyke.
Mayor Joe Preston added, “St Thomas is acquiring economic land for future employment growth for our whole region.”
The City announced the “mega-site development” on June 8, 2022, indicating that it “ … has entered into binding agreements to acquire over 800 acres of land in the northeast area of St. Thomas for strategic economic development purposes.
“With global investment in manufacturing and processing ramping up and a general shortage of available high-quality industrial land, the City recognized that providing one of the largest shovel-ready mega sites in Ontario would be one of the key components in the attraction of large investment to the region,” the City’s media release continues.
“We have a deputation on Tuesday afternoon (about) St Thomas’s purchase of potential development lands within Central Elgin,” said Central Elgin Ward 2 Councillor Dennis Crevits, a candidate for mayor in the October 24, 2022 municipal election
“We have a signed non-disclosure agreement with the Province,” he added. “I’m quite positive that we are going to release a statement from the Council on Tuesday. I have also written a personal response in regards to my thoughts.”
In a draft of his “personal response,” Crevits notes that Central Elgin’s official plan endeavours to protect agricultural lands and already identifies 800 hectares of “employment area land” along the Hwy. 3 corridor.
“In my opinion, it would be difficult to designate more employment area within our agricultural sector,” added Crevits. “Justification and public meetings would be required.
“Any municipality has the right to purchase land in another municipality,” he said. “This does not imply a boundary adjustment. A boundary adjustment is a public process, where public meetings occur. The purchase of land by another municipality does not give any special rights to zoning changes, as this is also a public process.
“I agree that woodlots need to be protected … ”, added Crevits. “Other municipalities may not have the same ethics.”
Other North Shore Beacon coverage of farmland redevelopment.