Why an almost 30-year-old Ontario law could end an empire before it began

Wednesday, 18 October 2017, 05:21:04 AM. A Japanese mushroom mogul could move his high tech farming operation to the United States if London city council doesn't allow him to buy a 10-acre plot of farmland on the city's southern rim.

A Japanese mushroom mogul could move his high tech farming operation to the United States if London city council doesn't allow him to buy a 10-acre plot of farmland on the city's southern rim.

Yoshinobu Odaira, the 69-year-old CEO of Shogun Maitake Company wrote a letter to London city council as they get set to vote Tuesday night to allow him an exemption from city land use by-laws, suggesting he could easily move his business to the United States.

"I have had many opportunities and still get a lot of invitations to move my facility to Michigan and New York, I want to build my company's future here in London. It is now up to you," he wrote in a letter dated Oct 11, 2017. 

  • How this weird looking fungus could build a Canadian business empire

Odaira has already invested $5 million in a 14,000 square foot demonstration plant where 13 employees can grow 3,000 lbs of mushrooms a week. 

He is currently leasing the land but in order to expand his operation up to 100,000 square feet with 50 to 70 new employees, he needs to buy the land to secure the financing. 

To do that, city council must grant him an exemption to zoning rules which don't allow severances smaller than 100 acres on farm land within city limits.  

'Agriculture is changing'

why-an-almost-30yearold-ontario-law-could-end-an-empire-before-it-began photo 1

Former London mayor Joe Fontana is working for Shogun Maitake Company as a business advisor. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

"As we all know agriculture is changing," said Joe Fontana, who is working as a business advisor for Shogun Maitake Company told CBC News Tuesday.

"You no longer need an awful lot of acreage to grow a lot of good food. I think council needs to take that into consideration." 

"We're hoping that the majority will see this is an exception, that severing this 10-acre parcel will not compromise the city's policies. In fact, will send a signal that this is a good place to invest and the city is ready to work together with Shogun Maitake." 

"We've invited councillors to come," he said, noting that councillor Anna Hopkins, whose ward includes Shogun Maitake Company, declined to visit the mushroom farm.

"The ward councillor understands how important this is to her ward and how important this is to London," Fontana said. 

"I didn't go because I have been very, very busy lately," ward 9 councillor Anna Hopkins said Tuesday.  "I am planning on doing that." 

Hopkins is among a number of councillors, including Jesse Helmer and Sean Turner, who voted against the by-law exemption for Shogun Maitake 

Smaller land severences not flexible

Hopkins said she worries about the future development of the 10-acre plot of land on Colonel Talbot Road if council grants the company an exemption from the official plan

why-an-almost-30yearold-ontario-law-could-end-an-empire-before-it-began photo 2

Anna Hopkins is the city councillor for ward 9, which includes Shogun Maitake Company on Colonel Talbot Road near Highway 401. (City of London)

"I'm all for supporting small businesses," she said. "I don't know if we should necessarily change our policies to accommodate someone's financing."

"Smaller land severences are not flexible," Hopkins said. "It's in our official plan. I do think we should have regard for what our policies say."

"If we're going to start saying yes to some and no to others, then we should change our policies," she said.

"I think the pendulum is swinging the other way'

However, councillor Maureen Cassidy, who also sits on the city's planning committee and supports the exemption for Shogun Maitake under the city's land use by-laws, says the rules need to take into account changing technology. 

"Right in our London plan it says 'we should allow for flexibility of farm practices as management techniques evolve,' I think this fits right in with that," Cassidy told CBC News Tuesday.

why-an-almost-30yearold-ontario-law-could-end-an-empire-before-it-began photo 3

Maureen Cassidy is the London city councillor of ward 5. (City of London)

Cassidy said that provincial legislation which guides city planning policy for farm land looks to strike a balance between preserving farm land for food production and keeping urban sprawl in check. 

"It's not just about today's use, but future use," she said, noting the legislation was written in 1989 when huge factory farms were becoming the norm.

"I think the pendulum is swinging the other way," she said. 

Cassidy said that this issue came to council a number of months ago, when a Halal abbattoir was looking to set up shop on Long Woods Road, which is also land 

"This is the second application that has come to the committee in less than six months from a farmer seeking to do something different and new, the other one was the Halal abbatoir, on a very tiny parcel of agricultural land," she said.

  • City staff seek zoning changes for London abattoir, residents speak out

City council is scheduled to vote on the issue Tuesday night.  

...Read more
Share this

    You might also like