Easier to beg for forgiveness, probably not

At a recent ratepayer meeting in one of my communities, the age-old question was raised by a local farmer, “Who are you to tell me what I can and can’t do on my land? Why should I need to ask permission to do something on my property?” There are primarily two reasons why municipalities want to regulate land uses.

In 1983, the Province of Saskatchewan adopted the Planning and Development Act for the first time, which authorized councils to adopt an official community plan and zoning bylaw to regulate all land uses within their municipal jurisdiction, including agricultural lands. Amended in 2007, the act authorizes a municipality to list items that are “permitted” and “discretionary” within zoning districts throughout the municipality. It is under this provincial authority that municipalities can tell everyone (including farmers) what they can and can’t do.

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There is no point beating around the bush, folks. The first reason a municipality would want to regulate land uses is so that they can tax you appropriately. They want to know if you’re building something residential or commercial, because those developments are taxable on a farm. Other provincial legislation is strict on what a municipality can regulate for farmers (Agricultural Operations Act, Nuisance Provisions Act), so the municipality shouldn’t be asking you to put in permits for corrals, grain bins or barns if the use of those buildings and structures are strictly agricultural. If your business changes, and you begin to operate a commercial venture out of your farm, you may need a permit.

Most farmers these days have enough cultivated and arable land to exempt their residence on the farm, so likely you won’t be paying taxes on the house, if you remain farming. Remember, taxes are not revenue generators, but they do assist in the paying for your roadway maintenance, landfill or transfer site, administrator and staff, libraries and other services the municipality provides.

The second reason is to ensure compatible land uses occur, which includes the protection of agricultural lands. When a rural municipality writes planning documents, it must receive ministerial OK in Regina before it becomes effective. This review includes a stop at the Ministry of Agriculture (among other ministries) for them to review the documents to ensure the municipality is not infringing on farmers’ rights. If the municipality has an approved zoning bylaw, then the Ministry of Agriculture is comfortable with what is included in the document, therefore, the Minister of Government Relations is, too.

You may be wondering why agricultural lands need protecting? I remember one of my first days on the job, and I had an irate ratepayer call to complain because the neighbours’ grazing cows were too close to their property. They asked if  the municipality couldn’t do something to quiet the cows down, stop the smell and make the farmer move the cows away from their acreage? Since that day, I’ve heard complaints from acreage owners about noise from cow-calf operations, dust from combining at harvest and frustrations due to delays from livestock drives. In each one of these cases, it has been great to refer to the zoning bylaw and remind the ratepayer that they chose to live in an agricultural district, which is supposed to be for cattle drives, horses grazing and crop farming.

Regardless of whether you’re a farmer or not, the municipality has adopted these regulations for a reason, such as wanting to assist you in protecting your investment. You let us know that you’re having a commercial operation on your farm, and your clients may end up with a better road to get to your business, which means more money in your pocket. Oh, and one other thing, please don’t say, “It’s easier to beg for forgiveness, than ask for permission”.

— S. Yvonne Prusak, BASc, MA, MCIP, RPP, is a Municipal Planner with municipalities and communities in Northwest Saskatchewan. She specializes in land use planning and development.

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