RM OF SPRINGFIELD -- A community unique in Canada for its high concentration of horses says it is threatened by a proposed development plan.
The RM of Springfield has unveiled a plan that would change the area around Birds Hill Provincial Park from the current 20-acre minimum lot size, down to two- and four-acre lots.
It would also redesignate the area to "non-farm rural" from its current status as "limited agriculture," although existing horse owners would be exempted by a grandfather clause.
"They keep trying to push high-density development around the (Birds Hill) park," said Don Rocan, a horse owner in the area and critic of the plan. "Essentially, they're changing the whole designation of the area... from an agricultural-type environment to dense residential development."
The RM says it needs to develop the land with smaller lots because Springfield is one of the fastest-growing municipalities in Manitoba, at a rate of almost nine per cent per year. It's expanding by 165 building permits annually, mostly population spillover from Winnipeg, and that rate is projected to exceed 200 in the future.
The RM of Springfield has a history of trying to develop the area around Birds Hill park. In about 2000, it unveiled a development plan that tried to facilitate construction of about 1,000 new homes along the perimeter of Birds Hill park. Public outcry caused the council to back down.
The new development plan was unveiled at an open house in May.
Opposition from horse owners, who say the new plan would eventually phase them out, has been building. They say filling the area with smaller lots -- lots too small to keep horses -- means more population with an urban mindset and less tolerance for horse owners.
The development plan is also a huge inducement for people on larger lots to subdivide their land for profit. The real estate is highly coveted, being rural residential so near to Winnipeg and adjacent to Birds Hill park.
The development plan allows a grandfather clause for current horse owners, meaning people on larger lots would not be required to subdivide. But there could be pressure to do so if the horse culture diminishes, said Liane Parker.
Liane and Robert Parker have a $100,000 indoor riding arena. If they become surrounded by urban residences, their arena may lose its value because the area becomes less attractive for keeping horses, Liane said. "If we can't sell it as a riding facility, then we have to take the arena down," she said. They might have to subdivide to recoup their losses. Many people are in a similar position where they have built equine infrastructures, she said.
The development plan was two years in the making, assisted by consulting firm Landmark Planning & Design. RM officials say there has been little opposition to the plan except by the horse community around Birds Hill.
Dan Doucet, Springfield planning manager, said people have some misconceptions. For example, a buyer of a new property would not have to obtain a conditional-use permit to keep horses, except if the buyer is opening a commercial enterprise, he said. Neither would property that has not had horses for six months require a conditional-use permit to have horses again, as some people are saying.
But Doucet had difficulty explaining why the area has to be re-designated as "non-farm rural" and what that fully means, other than it allows for smaller lot sizes.
Doucet cautioned the development plan is a draft and the RM will consider public feedback before coming forward with a final plan.
The community around Birds Hill park is unique in Manitoba, if not Canada, with its large rural residential lots and all the horse fencing along its gravel roads. A 16-square-kilometre area around the park boasts the third-highest horse population per person in the country. It's not uncommon to see people out riding their horses along roads and horse droppings on roadsides.
The main reason lot sizes have been historically oversized in the area is to protect the groundwater, said Rocan. The area sits atop a large aquifer that is very near the surface, within two metres in some places, that could be subject to contamination from adding septic fields for new residences on two to four-acre lots. The RM replied it will take every precaution to protect water.
Rocan said the council's encouragement of residential development makes no sense because there isn't the industrial tax base to support it. Because of the lack of industry to pay taxes, it costs the RM $1.28 for ever $1 of property tax, according to the RM's figures, Rocan said.