The firestorm of controversy over Fernando Pisani's backyard rink was finally cooling Friday afternoon and the dispute could soon lead to changes to control such residential projects in the future.
Before the controversy over the Riverstone Pointe rink erupted this week, Sturgeon County Coun. Tom Flynn had already asked county administration to bring forth recommendations to ensure that sports courts of all sorts were referenced in the county's land use bylaw, with specific reference to residential subdivisions and hamlets.
The motion, put forth on June 26, was prompted in part by the backyard rink dispute in the residential development that is in Flynn's division.
On Tuesday about 15 residents appeared before Sturgeon County's subdivision and development appeal board for a hearing on the rink under construction in the subdivision just east of St. Albert.
At issue was whether the rink should have been allowed to proceed without a development permit, explained county planning and development manager Collin Steffes. The county's municipal planning commission (MPC) had previously ruled that the rink didn't need a permit, and the county has not traditionally required permits for backyard rinks.
Shelley Klesko, a neighbour of the rink and one of the four appellants, argued that the rink's construction should be stopped until it gets a permit due to its potential impact on the region.
"We built there because of the beauty of the surroundings," she said, adding that she and other residents have put thousands of dollars into landscaping.
"Had we known a hockey rink of this magnitude would be built behind us, we would not have bought [the lot]," she said.
But rink builder Fernando Pisani, who used to play for the Edmonton Oilers, argued that many of the appellants' concerns were "ridiculous," as the rink will be for use by his pre-teen kids and will be shielded by trees.
About 21 area residents had written letters in support of the rink, he added. About 10 had come to the meeting in support of his position.
"From the beginning of this process, we have done everything by the book," Pisani said. "Never did we dream that we'd be engaged in such controversy."
The rink in question is about 15 by 27 metres in size [49 by 89 feet], Steffes said, and will feature permanent boards, Plexiglas ends and six three-metre tall light standards.
Klesko, who spoke to council about the rink in late June, said that sports fields such as hockey rinks should be subject to development permits as they are not explicitly exempt from them under county law. If the county requires permits for a shed it should also require one for this much larger rink, she said.
She and three other appellants at the hearing said the rink would create an unacceptable amount of noise.
"I'm a mother with three sons," she told the board. "Believe me, I know what hockey sounds like."
Klesko also said the rink was esthetically incompatible with its surroundings, and (citing remarks from a real estate agent) would drive down local property values 10 to 15 per cent. She also raised concerns about lights, drainage and traffic from visiting players.
Joanne Loch-Knecht, who also lives near the rink site, said she was concerned it would become a community rink, noting that Pisani had already told many residents that they could use it.
"This has unnecessarily pitted neighbour against neighbour," Loch-Knecht said, and could have been avoided had residents had the chance to raise their concerns during a permit application.
Pisani, who played for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010-11 and a few games in Sweden this past season, said he provided the county with full details of his project before he started construction.
"We were informed that a permit was not even required, and that it was equivalent to a tennis court," he said.
Pisani said he agreed to meet with the appellants and the county when neighbours raised concerns about the rink, but said the appellants were not interested in discussing mitigation.
"They simply wanted the project stopped."
Loch-Knecht disputed Pisani's account, saying that she and others had been told they would be able to speak to the need for a permit at that meeting, and were not told that it would be about mitigation until after they arrived.
The rink will have a concrete wall, a berm, and trees and shrubs that should address noise concerns, Pisani said. Its lights will only be on when the ice is in use, and he was thinking about putting them on retractable stands to lower them out of sight when not in use.
"The appellants have described the rink as an esthetic disaster. We quite simply do not agree," he said.
The rink would not create any more traffic than you'd expect in a typical neighbourhood, Pisani said.
"In no way will it ever be open for public use," he said. "We will not be opening the ice to SAMHA [the St. Albert Minor Hockey Association] or have the Oilers practice there."
Peter Altobelli, who lives two houses away from the proposed rink, told the board that he had built and used a smaller hockey rink in his backyard for three winters without any noise or drainage concerns.
"Never once did we have any complaints," he said.
He supported Pisani's rink as a way to get kids active and outdoors.
The board is set to issue its ruling on the rink within 15 days.