Angry grape grower blasts protection

Greenbelt additions limit growth in Grimsby and Lincoln

Dave Kewley The Hamilton Spectator - Oct. 29, 2004

Grape grower Steve Fernick is very disappointed with a surprising development in the greenbelt draft plan that has classified his four farms as tender fruit land.

"I feel I and the Town of Grimsby have been raped," said Fernick, who has four farms on Elmtree Road that total about 54 hectares.

The grape grower, who was born on the family farm in 1939, said only half of his land is viable for farming.

"We grow Niagara and concord grapes and these days they are used only for juice but in the past few years the market for juice grapes has fallen 34 per cent and we're being paid less per tonne than it costs to produce them," Fernick said.

The provincial government announced yesterday it had added another million acres to the greenbelt plan throughout the Golden Horseshoe and some of that extra land included all the land in south Grimsby between Mud Street and the Niagara Escarpment.

"Now the government has frozen all this land and nobody will ever buy it," said Fernick, who is near retirement and a few years ago was encouraged by the possibility that the town was considering the development of several hamlets in his area above the escarpment. He hoped that one day he might sell off some of his land for development of 0.4-hectare estate lots.

"This is definitely going to affect my future livelihood," said Fernick, who attended the green belt task force meeting in St. Catharines to present soil tests proving his land was poor agriculturally. "But it seems they really didn't listen to me."

Grimsby's regional councillor Debbie Zimmerman supports Fernick's argument, saying most of the land above the escarpment is marginal farmland at best. After looking at the maps released with the draft plan yesterday, Zimmerman said Grimsby and Lincoln have been left with nowhere to grow.

"Their ability to grow their assessment base has been nullified ... and that could soon see taxes in these towns shoot through the roof," the regional councillor said, explaining the future growth potential of a community provides its best chance of lowering taxes.

"The inclusion of all the land out to the town's south boundary came as a complete surprise.'' She added the only promising development is that the government has recognized the transportation deficiencies in the peninsula and the need for future economic transport corridors such as the proposed mid-peninsula highway.

Howard Staff, who runs a 1,200-hectare grape growing operation in the Jordon area, said he's shocked that the government released the draft plan before the submission of an economic impact study. "They've zoned us into a corner and nobody's asked if we can make a profit. It looks like we're just going to become serfs or keepers of the land," Staff said. "And on the human side, it means that our children and their children are going to be forced away from our communities because they won't be able to find a job or build a home.''

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