Planners from hell – They drive horses, don’t they?

David Carr
The Next City
June 21, 1996


CARL WAGLER WAS BORN on the same rich, rolling farmland near Stratford, Ontario, that his Amish father and grandfather had farmed before him. And he would have liked to live out his life there. But because he is just one of several sons, and modern-day planning regulations allow only one father to son severance for most farms, when Wagler married, he left the homestead and moved a short distance away to the hamlet of Newton. He and his wife, Anita, planned to carry on the traditional Amish way of life there, shunning such modern comforts as electricity and telephones. They bought a house with a small barn, ideal for stabling their sole means of transportation, a horse and buggy.

That’s when the trouble started. Newton, a cluster of about 40 houses, was zoned residential more than 20 years ago. Residents are not allowed to raise livestock unless their barns have been used continuously since before the restrictions were imposed. Unfortunately for the Waglers, previous owners had allowed the barn to fall into disuse for a brief period a decade ago. And even though, before the Waglers moved in, their little barn had housed pigs, a neighbor complained about the horse, and Mornington Township decided to make an example of the Waglers and their horse.

Last year, Wagler anted up $1,000 and applied for a zoning amendment. He lost, and the township held back $500 for “administrative costs.” In the spring, the township charged the Waglers and another Amish family, the Kuepfers, with nonconforming use of a barn. And quietly but firmly — they do not give interviews and cannot be reached by telephone — the families are fighting back.

Mike Mitchell, the township’s lawyer, insists that rules are rules. Even though there are already several horses stabled in Newton, he is adamant. “Nobody is going to bring a horse into a residential zone and stable it,” he says. The properties are too small and too close together. No exceptions can be made. Mitchell evidently has little sympathy for the cultural traditions of the Amish community. “A group of individuals are coming up against modern times and modern rules,” says Mitchell. “The old order does not require a horse — they can still walk.”

Susan Duke, an administrator for a neighboring township, warns that Mornington could be looking a gift horse in the mouth. The Amish and Mennonites first settled in the region in the early 1800s. Today there are about 800 Amish and Mennonites (25 per cent of the population) who live, work, pay taxes and draw thousands of tourists to the area each year. “They are a growing segment of the society,” says Duke, “and they own a lot of land.”

Nevertheless, the township is sticking to its principles. Despite widespread public sympathy for the two families — 600 township residents signed a petition in their support — a provincial court hearing went ahead in January and a ruling is expected soon. David Barenberg, the lawyer defending the Waglers, is mystified by the township’s tenacity in pursuing the Waglers. “It’s planning gone wrong,” he says. “The Amish maintain their community by not driving cars.”

Sasha Chapman

Autonomous airports are pie in the sky

ATTEMPTS TO MAKE CANADA’S money-losing airports more efficient have run into a patch of turbulence. In 1992, the federal government commercialized international airports in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Montreal (Dorval and Mirabel). Transport Canada leases the airports to nonprofit local airport authorities, which operate them on an arm’s-length basis. The trouble is, in addition to having long arms, Transport Canada turns out to have very long fingers too.

Instead of giving the airport authorities a clear path to lower operating costs, the leases are loaded with restrictions — minimum spending requirements, operating penalties and rent deferral clauses — that make a mockery of the government’s contention that it is withdrawing from the airport business.

When the Vancouver International Airport Authority (VIAA) undertook the construction of a new three-kilometre runway in 1993, it estimated the cost to be $100 million. But Transport Canada calculated the cost of the project at $102 million and wrote the larger figure into the lease. From the government’s point of view, if $100 million will buy a safe runway, then $102 million will guarantee an even better one.

Despite Transport Canada’s predictions, however, the authority managed to build the runway for just under $100 million and pass the department’s safety requirements. The authority has raised at least 40 per cent of the cost by tolling all travellers departing Vancouver, up to $15 a head. And how has Transport Canada rewarded the VIAA for its innovation and efficiency? By demanding that the airport authority hand over the $2 million it saved in construction costs, Transport Canada effectively removed any future incentive for the authority to save money on capital projects.

Transport Canada promises that the leases governing future commercializations will not be as complex or rigid as the lease written for Vancouver. But the feds are also insisting on seats on the airport authority boards alongside representatives of provincial and local governments — presumably to keep a closer eye on the independent authorities.

So much for free enterprise.

David Carr


They drive horses, don’t they

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