Lavender farm approvals tied up in regulatory process

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More than two years after he was granted a permit to operate a lavender operation on the 8th Concession, Jim Muzyka’s Fennario Meadows is still locked in a regulatory battle with his neighbours.

The Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC) voted in September of 2021 to approve Musyka’s application for an On Farm Diversified Use (OFDU) permit that would allow lavender production, a processing facility, and a limited number of visitors to be managed through a reservation system.

The group Protect the Escarpment (PTE) immediately appealed the decision saying the approval was at odds with the NEC rule limiting OFDU’s to prime agricultural land. Both Musyka’s farm and the Purple Hills Lavender farm already in operation on the 6/7 Sideroad of Nottawa are on land classified as sub prime.

The appeal triggered a hearing before the Ontario Land Tribunal which was not scheduled until January 2023. That hearing referred the matter to the Minister of Natural Resources. The minister has yet to issue a decision, perhaps anticipating that the NEC’s restriction on OFDU’s on sub prime land is likely to be rescinded.

Meanwhile, the NEC did vote in September 2022 to review the “no sub prime restriction” which required a 60-day public consultation period that began last March. Muzyka says in spite of an extensive advertising and public relations campaign, the PTE camp was able to come up with only 21 letters opposing removal of the restriction. There were roughly an equal number of letters that either supported the change or recommended some adjustment. Among the supporters were the Ontario

Federation of Agriculture and Ontario Craft Wineries (OCW, formerly the Wine Council of Ontario). An OCW submission to the NEC noted “With the advent of permissive policies for wineries in the Niagara Escarpment Plan (NEP) area, the WCO [now OCW] and its members have consistently shown how to sensitively balance the environmental stewardship objectives of the NEP with its complimentary objectives of encouraging agriculture and tourism. The result is the much-celebrated grape and wine tourism sector.”

OCW contends that OFDU’s help farmers withstand the pressures of residential estate type development, and help keep agricultural land in agricultural uses.

A staff report to next week’s NEC meeting is expected to recommend that the matter go back to the OLT for another hearing. That means more expense and further delays for Fennario.

“We have spent more money defending ourselves against these bullies than we have spent on equipment, plants, construction and labour over the past two years. They are trying to bankrupt us,” said Muzyka.

He says there are other farms on the 8th Concession who want to open to the public who are watching his situation anxiously.

“For small farms in Ontario, the choices are to find additional sources of income or sell out to estates,” he said.

Assuming the matter gets sent back to the OLT, Muzyka says it may well be 2025 before the gavel drops. He believes his opponents know they won’t win, but are hoping he will fold under the financial strain.

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