By Mac Christie
The Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) has ruled to allow 61 landscape businesses in the City of Hamilton to continue to operate.
In a decision issued April 4, the OMB ruled in favour of a one-time exemption that allowed landscaping operations in Ancaster and Flamborough to continue to operate under the city’s new Rural Hamilton Official Plan.
Ward 15 councillor Judi Partridge was happy with the decision. “This was certainly something that was a cloud hanging over the landscapers’ heads going into this new season,” she said. “Overall, I am very, very pleased.”
The exception allows landscaping businesses that existed prior to March 31 and registered with the city to continue to operate on their property. Proposed by Partridge and seconded by Ward 14 councillor Robert Pasuta, the move was necessary because the new rural zoning bylaw did not allow landscaping on agricultural land, except as a secondary use.
As a result, the Coalition for Rural Ontario Environmental Protection (CROP) – a 12-member group of formed in April 2015 to address environmental and planning issues related to landscaping in the rural area – filed an appeal to the OMB. While a March 3 settlement resolved many issues, CROP continued to take issue with the special exception.
In the decision to dismiss the appeal, the OMB said the evidence of many landscape contractors who testified at the hearing was persuasive.
“These are primarily small businesses (many family run) that collectively provide significant employment and for the most part, operate in harmony with their neighbours and contribute to the local community,” the decision said. Despite the potential for conflict…the impact of requiring established operators to either move or shut down their businesses would be catastrophic.”
“It was good to hear the ruling,” Pasuta said. “I thought it was only the right thing to do – landscaping fits right in with Greenbelt stuff…and it provides a lot of employment for people out there.
“It’s good for the landscaping community and those families involved in it, there’s no doubt.”
Partridge added the ruling only covers the 61 landscapers who registered with the city’s program to be grandfathered. “I believe there are more than 170 landscapers that are in the Ward 14, Ward 15 and Ancaster areas,” she said, adding the exception also doesn’t apply to any landscapers located in Glanbrook. “The councillor there wanted Glanbrook removed from the exemption.”
Flamborough Chamber of Commerce executive director Arend Kersten noted the Chamber supported the exception, and is pleased with the OMB decision. “I think it’s a huge victory for many in the landscaping community in Flamborough,” he said. “You’ve really got to give a lot of credit to councillors Partridge and Pasuta for finding a creative way to allow existing landscapers to remain in business in rural Flamborough.”
Kersten noted a move banning landscaping operations in rural Flamborough would have been devastating to the area’s economy.
John Bennett and John Rowe, both of whom live adjacent to landscape contracting businesses, spoke on behalf of CROP at the three-day OMB hearing in November 2016.
CROP argued that the exception does not conform to provincial policy, the Greenbelt Plan, or the Rural Hamilton Official Plan. The group also argued that landscaping businesses are supposed to operate in designated urban areas.
The city argued the exception reflects an appropriate balance of interests, addressing concerns of rural residents regarding potential nuisances against the reality that there are appropriate locations for landscapers to operate in rural areas. The city also argued many landscapers are permitted to continue operations because they were established in conformity with in-force zoning in Flamborough and Ancaster.
However, CROP felt that because many of the operations were permitted through site-specific exemptions, they should be considered non-conforming uses. While the OMB agreed landscaping operations next to residential properties can lead to land use conflicts, the decision noted landscape contracting is a permitted use, albeit as a secondary one.
Despite the ruling, CROP – which did not reply to requests for comment – can still request the OMB review its decision, or appeal it to court.