County passes new land-use bylaw

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Takes effect on Sept. 8

County farmers will soon have more ways to build homes for their friends and family on their land now that Sturgeon County has updated its land-use bylaw.

Sturgeon County council voted 5-2 in favour of third reading for the 2017 land-use bylaw Monday, with councillors Wayne Bokenfohr and Patrick Tighe opposed. The law had been in development since late 2014 and was the first total rewrite of the law since 1996.

Hundreds of people swamped council chambers and the Morinville Community Cultural Centre earlier this year for the law’s public hearing, in most part due to proposed rules on agri-business included in its first draft. Council dropped those rules and made many other revisions to the law over the last few months.

Tighe wanted final approval delayed several months to give people more time to review the law. Bokenfohr also called for a delay.

“I don’t think 11 to 10 days is a reasonable time to review 198 pages of land use bylaw,” Bokenfohr said, adding that he had received emails outlining a number of technical issues and questions about the law.

“It baffles me (as to) the reason why this has to be rushed through without gathering more information and doing our due diligence.”

Coun. Susan Evans said council had done more than its due diligence, having kept the public hearing open for a month, held numerous open houses and information sessions and spent many, many hours debating this law.

“If we delay it any longer, it’s like (pulling off) a band-aid,” she said – dragging it out would only make it worse.

Mayor Tom Flynn supported third reading, saying that council had dropped the agri-business proposals that accounted for about 90 per cent of the concerns at the public hearing and made many other amendments to the law.

Don Levers, a member of Sturgeon United Residents for Effective Accountable Leadership (SUREAL) who has followed the bylaw’s debate, said he was disappointed that council did not follow through on its promise at the public hearing to do more public consultation, but added that he saw many good aspects to the law as well.

“Nobody will ever get it all right,” he said, but there were still many unanswered questions around this law.

“They could have spent some more time engaging the public.”

While Flynn said in an interview that he was willing to delay the law, and had supported a defeated motion by Tighe to do so until after the election, he respected council’s decision. Many residents were waiting for this new law, and land use bylaws are often amended after they pass.

“I think when people start to take a good look at it and how it affects them, most will find out they’re very pleased with the document.”

What’s new

The new law rezones many properties to better reflect their actual use, said Clayton Kittlitz, the county planning and development manager who spearheaded the rewrite. It also highlights existing restrictions around Morinville, heavy industry, gravel pits and ecologically sensitive zones through use of overlays.

The new law eliminates many non-farm uses from agricultural zones such as RV storage and school construction, Kittlitz said. It lets hamlets build townhouses and duplexes, lets industrial parks have marijuana production plants, and allows homeowners to put solar panels on their roofs or walls without a permit.

Under the old law, farmers had to apply for temporary housing permits if they wanted to build homes for workers or relatives, Kittlitz said. Now, most agricultural areas can host permanent secondary homes or suites (but not both) or farm work accommodations with a permit. This also means landowners can build a second home on their land without having to destroy their old ones.

Anyone with a building that was legal under the old law but isn’t under the new one can keep those structures, Kittlitz said. Those structures will now be considered non-conforming and will have to remain as-is unless their owner applies to rezone.

Council voted in favor of a motion from Tighe to get a report by Nov. 28 on the 20-odd old enforcement cases that could be affected by the new law.

Council also voted 4-3 in favor of delaying implementation of the law until Sept. 8, with councillors Evans, Jerry Kaup and Karen Shaw opposed. Anyone who gets a complete land use application to county administration before then can choose whether they want their proposal evaluated under the old or new land use law.

www.sturgeoncounty.ca has full details on the new law.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.