Update on Council Meetings
There have been two council meetings since our last update. The September 27th meeting was another marathon; but the October 11th meeting was more reasonable.
Key issues from those meetings include:
Probable elimination of Business – Live Work (B-LWK) and Special – Future Urban District (S-FUD) land use districts .
Returning to the pre-2019 approach for land use redesignations bylaws
Tabling a road closure application (at Grand Valley Road and Range Road 51) until council deals with the Road Licencing Bylaw.
Mixed reviews on decisions on land use redesignations
Refreshing approach to requests to cancel late tax payment penalties.
Probable Elimination of B-LWK and S-FUD Land Use Districts
In response to a motion brought forward by Deputy Mayor Kissel and Councillor Wright asking for a review of the Business – Live Work (B-LWK) land use district and an exploration of a potential Home-Based Business 3 land use, Administration presented reports on both the B-LWK and Special – Future Urban Development (S-FUD) land use districts, as well as the Special Business Function discretionary land use.
The three land uses were added to the Land Use Bylaw by the previous council. According to Administration’s assessment, they have all been problematic since their introduction.
The B-LWK land use district was introduced to regularize non-compliant residential properties in east RVC with significant commercial and/or light industrial activity. On review, Administration found that many of the B-LWK properties have significant adverse impacts on surrounding residential and agricultural properties.
Administration is recommending replacing both the B-LWK land use district and the Special Business Function discretionary land use (which has also been problematic) with a new level of Home-Based Business (HBB3) that would provide for more intensive uses than available under the existing home-based business development permits.
The intent of S-FUD is to provide for interim uses on land that will be developed in the future. Logically, that would be land within existing ASPs; however, the rules governing S-FUD did not restrict its application. As a result, many S-FUD applications were outside of existing ASPs, making the “interim” nature of their proposed land uses somewhat questionable. Administration stated that there was also no policy guidance defining what qualified as an interim use. With the lack of policy support for interim uses, Administration pointed out that there were other land use districts that could accommodate activities proposed for S-FUD districts.
Council directed Administration to schedule public hearings to consider amendments to the Land Use Bylaw necessary to implement their recommendations to remove the S-FUD and B-LWK land use districts and the Special Business Function discretionary land use, and to introduce an HBB-3 that would require public hearings (rather than the administrative application used for the existing HBB-1 and HHB-2). These public hearings should be held in January.
First Reading Process Changing for Land Use Redesignation Public Hearings
Prior to 2019, all three readings on a bylaw to approve a land use redesignation were voted on immediately after the public hearing that dealt with the application. The previous council changed this process to have first reading of these bylaws shortly after the applications were submitted to Administration.
The change was made in an attempt to accelerate the sharing of information on land use applications and to avoid delaying approvals after the public hearings. Instead, Administration stated that the revised process had become a major “make work” exercise for Administration and created confusion for both applicants and residents.
Separating first reading confused some stakeholders who felt that it gave some level of Council support for the application – not true since first reading votes had no discussion. Administration indicated that, after receiving first reading, some applicants were reluctant to work with staff to refine their applications, including not wanting to undertake necessary technical studies. Other applicants were presenting the fact that their application had “received first reading” in a misleading manner causing some residents to conclude it was not worth raising concerns since the application appeared to already have Council support.
From Administration’s perspective, having to prepare a first reading bylaw on land use redesignations before assessing the application meant that, at times, they had to make major amendments to those bylaws as they worked with the applicant. This created a significant amount of work for staff. It also confused stakeholders since the bylaw presented at the public hearing often bore little resemblance to what was given first reading.
Because of all these issues, Council, other than Boehlke and Schule, agreed with Administration’s recommendation to return to the previous process – giving land use redesignation bylaws all three readings after the public hearing. The only downside identified with this process is that, occasionally, final approval of an application has to wait until the council meeting after the public hearing. This is because all three votes needed to approve an application cannot be held on the same day without Council’s unanimous consent for third reading. This consent has rarely been withheld; but is there to provide the opportunity for “sober second thought” on potentially contentious public hearings.
This change will come into effect once Council approves the necessary changes to the Procedure Bylaw.
Road Allowance Closure Application Tabled
Council tabled the application to close the undeveloped road allowance at Grand Valley Road and Range Road 51 until after it considers the proposed Road Licencing Bylaw, which was referred back to Administration for further work at the September 13th council meeting. The adjacent landowner making the application said security concerns were why he wanted to close the road allowance. However, there was opposition from several area residents who use the road allowance for various recreational purposes.
Mixed Reviews on Land Use Redesignation Decisions
Overall, this Council’s decisions on land use redesignation applications have followed policy far more frequently than their predecessors and, when they deviate from policy, more obvious rationales are provided for those decisions. As a result, most of these decisions are non-controversial and not particularly relevant for stakeholders beyond the immediate area.
To illustrate this assessment, we thought it useful to highlight four of the land use decisions from the Sept. 27th and Oct. 11th council meetings.
Refusal of a solar farm / electric vehicle charging station / data processing centre just north of Airdrie along Hwy 2. This application did not meet the County Plan’s requirements for establishment of a commercial operation outside of an ASP. It also had significant opposition from area residents who were concerned with the impacts such an operation would have and on the removal of quality agricultural land from cultivation. As Councillor Boehlke pointed out, there is a joint RVC-Crossfield ASP just north of the proposed location that is intended for commercial / industrial development that would be a far more appropriate location for this project.
In contrast, Council approved an application for heavy equipment storage on a parcel immediately outside the Janet ASP boundary. Administration recommended refusal since the application was inconsistent with County Plan policies regarding the location of business operations and the CMRB’s Regional Growth Plan policies for rural employment areas. Only Councillors Hanson and Wright supported Administration’s recommendation.
Two applications to subdivide agricultural parcels for “new or distinct agricultural uses” were treated differently, reflective of differences between the applications.
With one, an application to divide a 40-acre parcel into two 20-acre parcels, staff had recommended refusal, partly because the proposed lot configuration raised serious questions about whether the full 20 acres of one of the proposed parcels could be viably used for ag purposes. Council referred the application back to Administration to work with the applicant to see if a more appropriate configuration was possible.
The other, an application to subdivide a 20-acre parcel off the north-east corner of a 158-acre parcel, was approved. Administration raised some concerns about whether there was a need to subdivide the property to introduce the new agricultural use; but did note that the subdivision would not negatively impact the existing ag operations.
From our perspective, “new or distinct ag uses” as a reason for redesignation and subdivision of agricultural parcels should be critically reviewed as part of the upcoming revisions to the Municipal Development Plan. However, in the interim, these decisions reflect the apparent intent of the existing policy.
Late Tax Payment Penalties
Every year, Council is faced with a number of requests to cancel the penalties for late payments of property taxes. In the past, Council has received minimal information on each of these requests, leading it to make relatively across-the-board decisions (usually refusals) on these requests. This time around, it was refreshing to see Council’s questions about specific requests being answered with meaningful detail. As a result, Council exercised its discretion to reduce or waive the penalties in situations where they concluded the requests were warranted.
These decisions may have been influenced by the fact that Council already changed the structure of the late tax payment penalties from an immediate 12% penalty for all payments to a 4% / 4% / 4% penalty levied every other month the property taxes remain outstanding between the June 30th due date and the end of the calendar year. That change will be implemented with 2023’s taxes.