‘Hot-button’ Buffalo Lake bylaws pass first reading

Two controversial bylaws affecting properties on the south shore of Buffalo Lake passed first reading at county council on Feb. 11

Two controversial bylaws affecting properties on the south shore of Buffalo Lake passed first reading at county council on Feb. 11, and will now go to a public hearing before a second reading.

The changes to the land appeared on the agenda as one bylaw, but eventually was divided into two at the request of council.

The original bylaw would see the county sell off part of its buffer between the lakeshore right-of-way, which is owned by the province, and the adjacent lots. The land would be sold to the owner of the adjacent lot, while the remaining county land would be rezoned as environmental reserve.

A 2005 ruling in a lawsuit brought against the county by the adjacent landowners prevented the county from changing the zoning of the buffer property from a municipal reserve (MR) to an environmental reserve (ER). However, the county examined the ruling and noted that under the Municipal Government Act (MGA), the ruling only applies to subdivisions. Since the land is not a subdivision, nor is the re-zoning part of a subdivision plan, the land is governed by another part of the act which is not affected by the ruling in the lawsuit. Furthermore, since 2005, the government has released guidelines for municipalities regarding the buffer zones between the shore right-of-way and adjacent properties. The current buffer zone, which is 12 metres, will be reduced to six if the bylaw passes its second and third reading. Both buffer zones are now well below the recommended size put forth by the province.

The sell-off of portions of the buffer land was necessary due to encroachments – property built on the property line or clearly over it, explained Johan van der Bank, director of planning and development at the county.

In some cases, the owners had contacted the county, which had allowed the encroachments.

In other cases, the owners had simply encroached, possibly because they had seen their neighbours (who had obtained permission), do so.

When the owners said they had permission, van der Bank said the county tracked down former employees to confirm the story as nothing had been left in writing, and had found it to be true.

The encroachments would be covered by the land sold, leaving the county with a six-metre stretch of buffer land between the lakefront lots and the right-of-way. Properties in this buffer zone or on the right-of-way will need to be removed, van der Bank explained.

Council was split on the original bylaw, with three councillors – Ernie and Joe Gendre and Dave Grover – believing the bylaw needed to go ahead as written. The three said they believed that splitting the bylaw in half, one to allow for the selling of the land and the second to allow for the rezoning, would only set the county back – one would pass (the land sale) but the other would not (the changing of the reserve type).

Councillors James Nibourg, Greggory Jackson and Les Stulberg disagreed, and proposed a motion to split the bylaw. With the vote divided 3-3, reeve Wayne Nixon’s vote to split the bylaw into two decided the matter.

Staff quickly prepared the two new bylaws so they could be voted on at the meeting, and all but Grover passed the bylaws through first reading.

Council set a date of March 11, the next county council meeting, for the public review and second reading of the bylaw.

Also reviewed at council

The county voted to conduct a geotechnical study of its new property, expecting the results to be needed in the future as it prepares to build its new facilities.

The guideline process for the initial request for proposal (RFP) for the new town facilities also came up at council, with council voting to support van der Bank’s outline.

The process would see interested parties submit a very loose proposal – without the intense, time-consuming planning necessary of a final product. From these less-detailed proposals, the county would select a handful, which would then be invited to be submitted as full proposals. From those, the county would select the contractor.

The county is also looking at setting a default land value for property in the county to help with speeding various processes. Assessments take time and that can hold up the whole process. By declaring a county land value, the owner and potential buyers will have a choice to accept the land value or bring in an assessor to provide a more accurate land value. With certain parts of the county being more in-demand than others, there was some concern from councillors, but since the bylaw allows for the land value to be assessed and modified by the county, and could potentially see the county land values be area representative (i.e. Land values in Byemoor are not the same as in Erskine), the bylaw passed.

The County of Stettler is celebrating its sixth decade this year and is doing so with an open house at the county offices on June 18. While the planned events for the day have not been hammered out in specific detail, the date has now been set.