At County Council
| Posted: Wednesday, Jul 11, 2012 06:00 am
Weeds not whacked
A Manor Estates resident wants the county to beef up its bylaws to better handle weed-filled vacant lots.
John Harmon, who lives in Upper Manor Estates, told the Gazette this week about his ongoing struggle with a nearby vacant lot. The lot has been vacant for more than 14 years, and is often filled with weeds that blow onto neighbouring properties.
A recent visit to the site revealed waist-high grass and chest-high Canada thistle, as well as an extensive amount of dandelions. “There’s everything living in there, from voles to moles to mice,” he said – he’s even found dead animals. “All this stuff migrates onto our property.”
Harmon said he decided to speak up about the property this year because it is now fully enclosed by homes. “We have the only vacant lot in the whole area.” The owner (whom the Gazette could not reach) does not maintain the land, Harmon said, and the county only mows it once a year.
The county sends all owners of vacant lots a notice in June telling them to mow their lots by July, said Quentin Bochar, Sturgeon County’s manager of agriculture services. If they don’t, the county mows the lot and bills the owner at $125 an hour.
If inspectors find invasive weeds on a vacant lot, Bochar continued, the county gives the owner 10 days to get rid of the plants. If an inspector still finds weeds on the site two days after that deadline, the county calls in professional mowers and charges the owner at commercial rates. “It can be pretty expensive.”
While Canada thistle is listed as a noxious weed under the provincial Weed Control Act, (meaning the county is legally obliged to control, but not necessarily destroy, it on sight), Bochar said county inspectors spotted just one of the plants when they visited the site. “I can’t justify to my council that we sent a weed notice for one thistle.”
Harmon wanted the county to pass a bylaw that would require owners to mow vacant lots at least once a month, rather than once a year.
Coun. Tom Flynn said he was familiar with Harmon’s situation. “It’s frustrating to him and to me,” he said, as the county can’t do much about the lot with its current laws.
“The real solution is to get property owners who will be more responsible for their land,” Flynn said, adding that there were only a few problem owners in the county. He is now in talks with council on how to deal with the problem.
County fronts cash for pipes
Sturgeon County will shell out about $2 million this year so that the Sturgeon Industrial Park can get more water.
County council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a plan to upgrade the water and wastewater lines that run along Township Road 552. Those pipes supply the Sturgeon Industrial Park with water, and are to be upgraded next year at a total cost of about $3 million.
The upgrades are meant to beef up the region’s water storage and fire-fighting capabilities, according to a report to council, both of which are currently below recommended levels. Oil industry manufacturer Horton CBI has already paid about $1 million in offsite levies for these upgrades, the report noted, and is expecting these upgrades to occur.
County administration advised council to front the rest of the needed cash and to recover it through off-site levies on future development in the park.
While council could get that cash through a loan, infrastructure services manager Ian McKay said, they would have to raise taxes to pay for it, which might not go over well with the public – the county already planned to raise its utility rates by about six per cent next year to pay for upgrades to the Cardiff lift station.
Instead, he suggested getting the roughly $2 million from unallocated Municipal Sustainability Initiative grant funding.
This commitment will help all county residents by encouraging more development and tax revenue in the industrial park, said Mayor Don Rigney. “This is a major step.”
Quail Ridge and Hennessy pass go
Two major subdivisions in the Sturgeon Valley got a little closer to construction this week after a series of votes by county council.
Council voted 6-1 in favour of first reading for changes to the land use bylaw related to the proposed Green Hennessy subdivision. Flynn opposed the motion.
Council also voted unanimously in favour of first reading for land use bylaw tweaks related to the Quail Ridge development.
Green Hennessy is a 57-home development proposed for construction on the site of Peas On Earth farm, which is located on Sturgeon Road across from Allin Ridge Estates.
Quail Ridge is a 90-home development located south of the Sturgeon River between the Sturgeon Valley Golf and Country Club and Riverlot 56.
While first reading would normally lead to an automatic public hearing, planning and development manager Collin Steffes asked council to hold off on scheduling one until they worked out a number of technical issues with the developers over the summer — water issues with Green Hennessy, and the realignment of 127 Street with Quail Ridge.
Council is expected to schedule a public hearing later this fall.