Why So Few Listings for Vacant Land?

Earlier this week I received the following email which raised several questions about the availability of vacant land in the County. I thought the questions might be of interest to other readers so I am including the email and my response:

The Email

We’re just beginning our search for land in the county and your site has already been an invaluable resource for us so thank you!

I’ve found the vacant lot listings a little lacking overall in the county. So much seemingly unused land, yet most of it not for sale. But of course there’s more to it than that.

My question might be naive, but is it at all common to find an area you like and try to contact the land owner in the hopes of getting a severance for a small parcel?

My Response

A key goal of provincial policy and the County’s Official Plan (OP) is to preserve prime agricultural land. As a result, no severances are permitted in areas classed as Prime Agriculture in the Plan.

By my rough estimate, approximate 1/4th of the rural land in the County is classed as Prime Ag. For example, all the areas shown in white in the following excerpt from the OP land use schedule are Prime Ag:

Image shows the land use schedule from the Prince Edward County Official Plan

Another principle of the County’s Official Plan is retention of the municipality’s rural character. While allowing some development in rural areas, the intent is to avoid excessive housing density outside the built-up areas.

As a result, the County limits the number of severances that are available on a property to two, and those properties severed cannot be further re-divided. In addition, any proposed severance has to meet zoning requirements for minimum lot size, road frontage and well capacity.

While it is plausible to approach a landowner, it would be a very long shot. As a first step, you would have to make sure that:

  • it’s not Prime Ag
  • its allowance of severances is not used up
  • there is enough acreage and frontage for a severance

Presuming a property meets all these tests, it’s then a matter of negotiating with the landowner.

Severances are not automatic and a landowner who wants to sever a parcel will incur several costs with no guarantee that a severance will be granted. These costs include:

  • Survey costs
  • Municipal application fees
  • Drilling a well with a minimum of 3 gallons per minute
  • Potential consultant fees

Of these, well drilling costs are the most significant. It costs approximately $7,500 to drill a well here with no guarantee that water will be found in the first well drilled.

A rational landowner would require the potential buyer to pay for these upfront costs regardless whether a severance was ultimately approved or not.

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