Glenburnie Farmers question future if new spa development proceeds

Paul Kerby, Jessika Jensen-Kerby and their three children live on the farm adjacent to the proposed Unity Inn & Spa. Photo by Love and Wild Photography.

City Council will vote on Official Plan and zoning By-Law amendments at Tuesday night’s Council meeting, to potentially make way for construction of a new hospitality venue in Glenburnie.

The Unity Inn & Spa, proposed by local developer and business group BPE Development Inc., would host 27 guest suites, 40 private cabins, a spa, winery and nano-brewery, restaurant, agricultural production and market, if built.

The Glenburnie Resident Association has raised concerns over the project since it was unveiled in 2018, citing concerns over water usage, sewage, traffic, garbage and noise. Now, the farm owners next door to the proposed development are also raising their voices.

“If this is approved, it will limit our farm now, and for the future,” said Paul Kerby. “It is a shame to restrict good agricultural land all for the sake of unnecessary luxuries.”

“We’re not against development, and we’re not here to see anybody fail,” he said, “This is very much a point of preservation of farmland, and our future.”

Livestock herds restricted by development

The Kerbys bought their farm in early 2017 intending to raise cattle, which legally require a certain area of separation from other types of businesses. Currently, they board 16 horses, and are planning to expand to cattle as their three young children grow. If the Unity Inn & Spa development goes ahead, the Kerbys say they will not be able to proceed with their plans. They’re afraid they will lose the massive investments they have poured into the property over the past three and a half years, as well.

The family said they’ve been counting on the City’s Official Plan, as well as the Ontario Government’s 2020 Provincial Policy Statement to protect their farm for the past two years. Both documents say that, in rural areas, priority should be given to productive agriculture over other types of development.

“We thought these laws were in place to protect us, so we didn’t think we had to speak up,” Kerby said. “All along, we thought we were relying on the Official Plan to speak on our behalf. Now it seems to have been interpreted creatively.”

Though the Kerbys met with the City and BPE to discuss the restrictions the development would impose on their livestock, the City’s Planning Committee approved an amendment to the zoning for construction on Thursday, Jul. 16, 2020.

“Now it looks like: I don’t know why we’re here,” said Jessika Jensen-Kerby. “I don’t know why we purchased this huge home and this great land if we can’t use it. We’ve just wasted our savings.”

“We thought, ‘wow these laws are in place to protect us,’ and that we were ok,” she continued. “Then all of a sudden a developer buys a property next door, and we realize the investment we made could be taken in the blink of an eye.”

Trying to work together

The Kerbys have attended Glenburnie Residents Association and City meetings, met privately with the City, and with BPE Developments President & CEO Ben Pilon, trying to find a way to protect their planned cattle farm.

Guidelines set out by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) regulate the distance that livestock need to be kept from other properties, based on their output. These are known as Minimal Distance Separation, or MDS restrictions. The City of Kingston provided an MDS expert to analyze the Kerby’s property.

According to Senior Planner for the City of Kingston James Bar*, MDS calculations did not include cattle, but were based on the livestock the Kerbys owned at that time.

Joining in on the MDS discussions, BPE has modified their designs to make room for the Kerbys to double their horse herd, and remain MDS compliant.

“As the process continued it was becoming quite clear that was all we would ever be able to do here,” Paul Kerby said. “Ben Pilon was working with us and the City, and, from his business perspective, he’s trying to make this development work for him financially. Unfortunately it’s working for us financially in the other direction.”

The Kerbys are frustrated that City Councillors think doubling the horse herd is an adequate accommodation. The farmers say this is not enough to protect the long-term return on investment that they were expecting.

To stay in compliance with OMAFRA, the Kerbys say they can have approximately 28 horses and 14 cattle if the proposed development goes ahead.

“Fourteen cattle is not a viable business,” Paul Kerby said.

“We have to have cattle to make this work,” Jessika added. “This was our future and the future of our children. All of our savings have gone into this,” she said. The Kerbys say they will expect to shut their doors within a year or two if the development goes ahead, and feel they will be forced to sell.

“What farmer is going to want to buy this now?” she said.

Ben Pilon: ‘There are real solutions’

Pilon said he has told the Kerbys that he wants to see their business thrive, and is willing to work them. He doesn’t believe the Unity Inn & Spa will necessarily be the only thing in the way of a cattle herd, from an MDS perspective.

“I’ve learned a lot about MDS over my time on this, from reading and the experts we’ve been bringing in, the experts who have reviewed this at the City,” he said, noting his facility will also be subject to MDS restrictions.

“A lot of what you’ve described isn’t just triggered by us, it’s the fact that there’s a fair amount of other homes in the area, there are other buildings,” he said. “All that leads into the discussion of MDS. It’s a complicated piece.

Jessika said prior to the proposed spa, there have been no MDS restrictions impacting the planned expansion of their farm.

Pilon, however, noted that their shared neighbours are mostly residential, and that the City is continually expanding into rural parts of the City.

“You look at that corner: there’s a school and there’s a church, and new lots are being severed every day,” he said.

“The Kerbys have got a fair amount of land. It won’t stop them from developing,” he added. “It limits certain areas where they can and cannot build, but they can apply to the City for a zoning bylaw amendment, similar to what I am doing,” he said.

The changes BPE made for the horse farm, Pilon said, allows the Kerbys to double their barn, adding 4,000 square feet. “If they want to expand in other ways, they’ve got other areas of land that they can do that too,” he said.

“I have told them that I one hundred percent support whatever they need to do… I respect what they’re saying, but I think there are real solutions,” he said.

As for criticisms that the development encroaches on agricultural land, Pilon disagrees.

“What we’re building is a farm. We’ve planted the fields, we’ve spread manure — even manure from the Kerby’s horse farm, as well manure I brought in from my chickens,” he said.

“Keeping the rural character is huge, which is why the farm and the brewery are going to use the hops that we will grow. Part of the farm is orchards, then we’ve got vineyards and vegetable gardens. We’re putting a market on site where we can sell our fruits and veg. We buy as much as we can locally, we’re connected with the local farms.”

The Inn will also add up to 80 jobs to the local economy, he said, and will not run events past 9 p.m. “When I’m out walking the property and I hear the birds and the rustling leaves — that’s what we’re going for,” he said.

“We’re a farm as well, we’re promoting agriculture as well. I think everyone just has to work together, as neighbours, and find solutions to make things work,” he added.

Decisions coming Tuesday night

In advance of Tuesday night’s council meeting, The Glenburnie Resident’s Association has sent three letters to City Council — one from a lawyer, one from the City’s former rural planner, and one from Jessika Kerby — outlining their objections.

“The Glenburnie Residents’ Association is opposed to this application, not for its potential economic and tourist benefits, but because of the proposed location in a rural residential neighbourhood and the fact that it is adjacent to a new and expanding farm,” said David Pentney, Glenburnie Resident’s Association Chair.

“Approval of this application will significantly alter the character of this neighbourhood and impose unreasonable limits on the ability of the farm to grow its operation.”

Council will also receive a petition bearing approximately 1,793 signatures in support of the Unity Farm, Inn & Spa, which was submitted to the Office of the City Clerk on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. If Council approves the planning amendment passed on Thursday, July 16, development of the Unity Inn & Spa will proceed. The Kingstonist will provide coverage of the decision this week.

* Editor’s note: This article has been updated with a statement from James Bar, Senior Planner for the City of Kingston about the nature of the MDS calculations.

Samantha Butler-Hassan, Local Journalism Initiative

Samantha Butler-Hassan is a staff writer and life-long Kingston resident. She is a news junkie and mom who loves reading and exploring the community. This article has been made possible with the support of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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