NEEBING, ON— An application to amend the zoning for a parcel of agricultural land in the Municipality of Neebing has stirred up a debate in the rural community south of Thunder Bay.
A local property-owner, Joseph Zawada, wants to build a multi-purpose medical clinic in a hayfield at the intersection of Highway 61 and Boundary Drive, the dividing line between Neebing and Oliver Paipoonge.
Thunder Bay Co-Op Farm Supplies and the Thunder Oak Cheese Farm are situated nearby.
Before the development can proceed, the site requires rezoning and an amendment to Neebing's official plan.
Community residents are divided over whether getting easier access to medical services trumps the preservation of farmland.
Neebing's solicitor-clerk, Rosalie Evans, says a large number of residents attended a public meeting where the plan was discussed.
"We've had strong comments, both for and against," Evans told Tbnewswatch.
She said supporters point to improved health care and diversification of the local economy, whereas opponents take the view that agricultural land should be used for nothing but agriculture.
"Both sides have good points to make," Evans said, adding that council has to look at everything "with an open mind" and consider all the comments that are made.
She's hoping that by next month, council will be able to consider a recommended course of action.
It's unclear at this point how provincial government policies and rules will play out in the decision-making process.
Evans noted that the Provincial Policy Statement on land use planning favours the protection of agricultural land, and the property in question—located in the Slate River Valley's rich soil zone—is designated agricultural in the official plan and in the zoning by-law.
"To do anything other than an agricultural use, it needs the re-zoning plus an official plan amendment."
Neebing is still waiting for input from various provincial ministries through the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. That's expected within the next few weeks.
Zawada may be counting on support for his case from the province's Northern Growth Plan. It was developed to encourage diversification of the tax base.
Evans said that, despite the guidelines in the Provincial Policy Statement, the NGP states that it can be used to override the PPS "unless there are environmental issues or public health issues" at stake.
The plan he has outlined to council includes a facility with space for doctors' offices, a dentist, diagnostic and physiotherapy services, a pharmacy and a lab.