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Farming in Gormley 'just about finished': local farmer

Stouffville seeks commercial development of Hwy. 404 corridor
Jan. 30, 2020
Simon Martin

Paul Doner and his family have been farming land in the Gormley area since 1806. But, after more than 200 years working the soil as the surrounding area has urbanized, Doner wonders how many years they have left.

“Historically agriculture has provided for my family and my ancestors, but as we look toward the future, agriculture in this area is just about finished,” Doner said.

The rural community in Gormley has evolved into an urbanized area in the past couple decades. Traffic has steadily increased over the years, thanks in part to Hwy. 404 and the Gormley GO Station. With more and more farmers moving on and agriculture dealers moving further afield, Doner said its time to recognize that Gormley isn’t a prime agricultural area anymore.

“These factors make farming in this community incredibly difficult,” Doner said.

The Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville is also interested in getting the region not to designate lands in Gormley Prime Agricultural Land.

In a report, town staff said they do not support the identification of the Gormley lands as prime agricultural lands. The lands in question along the Hwy. 404 corridor are being considered by the town for future employment area development.

Ward 3 Coun. Hugo Kroon said the town has a large interest in growing its commercial tax base through developing the Hwy. 404 corridor. The land being zoned for agriculture doesn’t really make sense. “If it’s prime agricultural land, I don’t know who is going to farm it,” he said.

One of the big issues is access to land, added Kroon. With an unprecedented number of cars in the area, especially with the new Gormley station, it’s difficult to access the land with farm machinery.

“It isn’t a rural neighbourhood anymore. It is a rural community that has gone primarily urban,” Doner said.

As for the specific proposed employment lands in the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville, the Doners farm all of the farmland -- except for two farms along the 404 between 19th Avenue and Bethesda Sideroad. Getting farm vehicles around the area has become increasingly difficult as much of the machinery takes up more than one lane, Doner said. “It has become unsafe to move machinery in this area,” he said.

The town is also seeking for lands in the Vandorf settlement area not to be designated prime agricultural lands as they are within the existing settlement area.

The town's council said Whitchurch-Stouffville’s future financial health depends on commercial and industrial development along Hwy. 404 and asked the provincial government to designate properties along Ontario’s 400-series highways as employment lands.

“Everyone knows Gormley and the entire 404 corridor is our future,” Kroon said at the time. But the provincial government backtracked on its open-for-business section last year. This initiative would have allowed municipalities to seek permission to bypass several laws meant to protect the Greenbelt and the Oak Ridges Moraine, if they could prove new businesses would create at least 50 jobs in communities with populations less than 250,000 and at least 100 jobs in larger municipalities.

While the town never had any intention of declaring open season on Greenbelt development, council had quickly thrown its support behind the open-for-business tool as a way of attracting businesses along Hwy. 404 in Gormley.

If approved, non-residential development along the 404 would reflect provincial policies of decades ago that intended to see employment lands developed close to 400-series highways, Kroon said.

Last year, Mayor Iain Lovatt said council doesn’t want to pave over environmentally sensitive lands.

“I do want to put everyone’s minds at ease (who fears) this is just the start of us running roughshod over the Greenbelt. That is not the intention. The intention is a very focused area on the 404,” Lovatt said.

“It is not going up into Ballantrae or into the Oak Ridges Moraine core area. That’s not it at all. This is a very strategic plan for our municipality to grow our tax base that is going to fund the infrastructure needs and programming for my grandkids and your great-grandkids and our future. Without it, we’re going to be in serious trouble.”