Homeless man from Grafton doesn’t give up on his dream of building a tiny house on his farmland

GRAFTON, NS – A man from Grafton who has recently become homeless does not give up his dream of building a small house on his farmland.

Don Baker said he was continuing to work with Kings County to find a compromise that would allow him to build but, so far, there has been no change. He crosses his fingers in the hope that “common sense” will prevail.

“I’m looking at different avenues,” Baker said.

He said he found it “too shocking” to learn that he would not be able to build a house 25 feet by 25 feet, perhaps smaller, in an area of ​​his property that is not. not suitable for agriculture.

“Since then it has put a strain on my system,” Baker said.

He said he knew life was not easy, but that something like that would happen was like getting “a punch in the heart”.

Baker and his wife, who was in a wheelchair, purchased the 30-acre plot on the east side of Coleman Road in 1995. He began to design a retirement home for them.

Baker cleared the land and planted a wide variety of fruit trees, blueberries and gardens prepared for crops. However, Baker said they had run into financial difficulties. They decided to sell the farm to her sister to keep her in the family.

In 2020, Baker’s wife passed away. He then decided to buy the Grafton farm from his sister, which he did last spring.

Baker thought he would put his Cole Harbor home up for sale. At the time of the sale, he planned to apply for a permit from Kings County to build a small house on his Grafton property. He did so in June and was told he couldn’t build on the land. With the sale of his home in Cole Harbor closing on November 1, Baker became homeless.

Don Baker and Kings County Councilor Dick Killam on the Baker’s Grafton farm property. Baker does not give up on his dream of building a small house and working the land. KIRK STARRATT

Not a “bona fide farmer”

Baker said he understands that since his land is zoned agricultural (A1) and he is not considered a bona fide farmer, there is currently no provision in the strategy for Municipal Planning (MPS) and County Land Use Regulation (LUB) would allow this.

Baker, who receives a pension, said he would have to generate more income from his farm than from any other source to be considered a bona fide farmer.

With winter approaching, Baker remains unsure of what exactly he will do. He has stayed in his car and barn for the time being. He will also stay with one of his sisters for a few days here and there, “just to keep moving.”

“My sister in Ontario wants me to come there for a few weeks in February. It’s just when the cold is over here, before the snow is gone, ”he said.

Baker said every situation is different. He maintains that the municipal planning service should carry out site visits and assess each case on its own merits rather than relying on general policy. He pointed out that several permits are required before a newly built house can be occupied, which would require several site visits.

Baker said he understands the municipality announced the process by approving its new land use and planning documents last year. However, he stressed that landowners who would be affected by the regulatory changes were not directly informed.

An irony for Baker is that the municipality is taking action to protect farmland, but without the 25 years of work Baker has put into his property, it wouldn’t work.

Don Baker shows a field on his Grafton property where he has planted 5,000 cloves of garlic.  KIRK STARRATT
Don Baker shows a field on his Grafton property where he has planted 5,000 cloves of garlic. KIRK STARRATT

Explore options

Com. Dick Killam, who represents the Grafton region on Kings County Council, worked with Baker and the municipality to try to find a solution.

“I sincerely believe that each individual situation should be considered on its own merits,” Killam said.

Killam recently visited with Baker for a meeting with the town’s director of planning and inspection services. Killam said one possibility that had been discussed was developing a proposed business plan for the property.

He said this could potentially lead to Baker being allowed to build a small house, if the municipality deems the plan feasible and therefore Baker could be seen as a bona fide farmer. Killam said it would take a lot of work to develop such a business plan, and he’s not sure where it would lead for Baker.

Killam said that if Baker were allowed to build a small house anywhere he wanted, in an area of ​​the property that is not suitable for crops or fruit trees, it would have no impact on the future potential of the property. to produce food.

Don Baker indicates the area on his Grafton property where he wants to build a small house.  Baker argues that the place is not suitable for fruit trees or crops.  PHOTO FILE
Don Baker indicates the area on his Grafton property where he wants to build a small house. Baker argues that the place is not suitable for fruit trees or crops. PHOTO FILE

Rural life “in danger”

Killam said he contacted Kings North MPP John Lohr, who is also the provincial minister of municipal affairs and housing. Lohr is therefore aware of Baker’s situation. He also reached out to the village of Cornwallis Square, which includes Grafton.

Killam said there was a time when there was more flexibility within villages, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. He said several hamlet designations have also been removed and it appears residential development has been essentially ‘stuck’ on valley floor in Kings County.

“How are these small communities going to develop over the next 20, 30, 40 years if everything is locked down? Killam said.

While not directly related to Baker’s situation, Killam said he continued to hear from voters owning so-called pre-1994 lots in the agricultural district that were once considered grandfathered for construction. residential. These were phased out with the approval of the new MPS and LUBs last year.

Killam pointed out that there had been no compensation for these landowners for residential taxes paid on these properties for years.

He said wanting residential development in areas with municipal services makes sense from a planning standpoint, but “our rural way of life is in danger, in my mind.”

Kings County Council.  Dick Killam, right, talks with Don Baker at the Grafton Man's farm property.  Baker does not give up on his dream of building a small house and working the land.  KIRK STARRATT
Kings County Council. Dick Killam, right, talks with Don Baker at the Grafton Man’s farm property. Baker does not give up on his dream of building a small house and working the land. KIRK STARRATT
Don Baker with one of the peach trees he planted on his Grafton property several years ago.  PHOTO FILE
Don Baker with one of the peach trees he planted on his Grafton property several years ago. PHOTO FILE


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