Road Allowance Licencing - Public Hearing on Sept. 13th
A public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, September 13th at 1:00 p.m. to consider changing the rules governing the use of undeveloped road allowances to permit leasing for dedicated access to adjacent properties. Written submissions are due by 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, August 31st. Pre-recorded audio and video submissions can be submitted until noon on Monday, September 12th. The proposed bylaw can be accessed here.
Undeveloped road allowances are publicly accessible. Many undeveloped road allowances are used for recreational purposes (e.g. dog walking, horseback riding, accessing rivers and other crown land). Some road allowances are also used to access parcels that do not have direct road access. Currently, adjacent landowners may lease the road allowance for grazing or cultivation purposes. Under these leases public non-vehicular access must be maintained.
Under existing policy, an adjacent landowner who wants to use a road allowance for “private or exclusive access” to their property must apply to close the road allowance. This requires a public hearing where it is determined whether the road allowance is surplus to the County’s needs and whether there is any opposition to the application. If the application is approved, the landowner then purchases the road allowance from the County at fair market value and it becomes part of that landowner’s property.
The proposed bylaw extends leasing of undeveloped road allowances to provide “dedicated access” for adjacent landowners. It is completely unclear what differentiates closing a road allowance for “private or exclusive access” versus leasing a road allowance for “dedicated access”, other than the first requires a public hearing and the second does not. Unlike the existing policy, the proposed bylaw makes no reference to the leases being for non-exclusive use of the undeveloped road allowance (i.e. maintaining public non-vehicular access).
From our perspective, the proposed bylaw is extremely problematic since it appears to conflict with Council’s decisions at its July 26th meeting. At that meeting, there were two public hearings dealing with competing road closure applications for the undeveloped road allowance at the south end of Range Road 31 in Springbank. Both applications were refused because of public concern about the loss of public access to the Elbow River. At the end of those public hearings, Administration was directed to report back to Council by November 29, 2022 with “options to promote safe and accessible pathway connections to waterbodies and watercourses for recreational purposes along road allowances”.
In making that motion, Councillor Hanson stated the County needs to deal with the issues surrounding public access to our rivers, but that the County “needs a bit of time to get its house in order”. Unfortunately, if this proposed bylaw is approved those good intentions may be for naught. Under the proposed bylaw, there appears to be nothing stopping adjacent landowners from applying for “dedicated access” for any undeveloped road allowance.
Currently, Administration is responsible for decisions regarding licences of occupation for undeveloped road allowances – no public hearings or council debate is required. The proposed bylaw continues that delegation of responsibility. Since road closure applications require public hearings, nearby landowners are notified of applications under the County’s notification policy. However, the proposed bylaw has no details about public notification requirements. As a result, it is not clear whether comparable notification will be provided for applications to lease an undeveloped road allowance for “dedicated access”. There is also no information regarding what appeal process exists for Administration’s decisions on such applications.
We encourage everyone who is concerned about maintaining public access to the County’s undeveloped road allowances to express their concerns for the September 13th public hearing. While the August 31st deadline for written submissions is quite soon, pre-recorded audio or video presentations aren’t due until noon on Sept. 12th. (If you need guidance for making a pre-recorded presentation, let us know and we can send you a how-to guide). Or, consider attending the public hearing itself. Since it is the only public hearing scheduled for the afternoon, it should start promptly at the advertised 1:00 p.m.