BACKCOUNTRY PLANS  This black-lined area shows the location of the Whitetail Lake Land Corporations 3,789-acre property by Whitetail Lake, a subdivision that is driving a proposed bylaw the regional district is considering adopting. Map submitted

BACKCOUNTRY PLANS This black-lined area shows the location of the Whitetail Lake Land Corporations 3,789-acre property by Whitetail Lake, a subdivision that is driving a proposed bylaw the regional district is considering adopting. Map submitted

By Nicole Trigg

Pioneer Staff

A public hearing on a bylaw amendment regarding bare land strata subdivision in the Upper Columbia Valley took place on Monday, February 2nd at the Columbia Ridge Community Centre and was attended by roughly 13 members of the public.

A subdivision currently underway at Whitetail Lake (accessed by two forest service roads approximately 28 kilometres west of Canal Flats) prompted Regional District of East Kootenay staff to draft the bylaw (No. 2559). In 2010, the Whitetail Lake Land Corporation (WLLC) applied to the RDEK to rezone the roughly 3,800 acres it had purchased from Tembec and was turned down. The WLLC discovered it could still proceed by undertaking density averaging through the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure the Strata Property Act allowed it since the RDEK didnt have in place a bylaw to restrict this avenue.

In the question and answer period preceding the public hearing, RDEK planner Kris Belanger explained the bylaw amendment was beneficial because it would set a minimum parcel size when there is a bare land strata using density averaging.

This will provide public certainty as to the lot sizes that can be created and there will be the political benefit of narrowing the range of options. This forces developers into zoning so elected politicians can make decisions, he said.

Canal Flats resident and WLLC director Barry Benson asked if public input was solicited before drafting the bylaw. Its a far-reaching bylaw that really deserves the full understanding of the public, said Mr. Benson, stating that additional time for public input should be considered. Staff did the research, replied Mr. Belanger, and the bylaw is well-aligned with what other jurisdictions are doing.

Area F director Wendy Booth explained the bylaw had been presented to the board in December, who had voted to delay it a month in order to receive more information, which came in the form of a presentation by Mr. Belanger. Legal restrictions prevent announcing a public hearing earlier than 10 days prior, said Manager of Planning and Development Services Andrew McLeod. We are operating on a legal mandate.

It seems like you are trying to rush it through, said Fairmont resident and WLLC shareholder Judy Roggeman.

Understand the boards situation, said Area G director Gerry Wilkie. The board was concerned because a land use decision was circumvented. Wed like to plug that loophole. With a large number of Tembec lands sold, the board wants to be proactive and introduce regulations, Mr. Wilkie added.

Mr. Belanger opened the public hearing by announcing approximately 44 letters had been received in opposition to the bylaw with the common theme that it would adversely affect the subdivision at Whitetail Lake.

Eric Redeker, the first member of the public to speak, stated his opposition to the bylaw because not only it affects my personal property and investments, but those of my colleagues. The loophole, he said, was not a loophole. Its a piece of provincial legislation… I feel the regional district is starting on this process now to hinder our development.

Reading from her letter submission, Mrs. Roggeman echoed his sentiments, stating the WLLC had spent over $8 million on the property and worked very hard to satisfy 90 per cent of the subdivision conditions, including the widening and improvement of the forest service roads, which should warrant exemption.

With six new directors, for the RDEK to hastily introduce this bylaw targeting Whitetail is irresponsible with dire consequences for WLLC, her letter read.

Mr. Benson repeated his concern with the approach RDEK was taking as the bylaw affects all zones in the Columbia Valley. (This bylaw) cannot be rammed through the process to start the one-year clock, he said, adding the numbers are limiting when applied to other land parcel sizes and does not allow for creative phase development.

Go back to your table and take time to understand the ramifications of this type of bylaw, he said, also stating the WLLC should be exempt if the bylaw proceeds.

Countering the WLLC standpoint were Brent and Bill Dubois, whose family have owned nearby land since the early 1980s and have Crown recreation tenure as well as a trap line and cabin business. My hats off to the regional district, said Brent. (The WLLC) say its not a loophole they found, but they did.

With this Strata Act, its gone through process, but the only people who knew about the process were WLLC no one got a say, he said. Im hearing complaints the public isnt aware (of the proposed bylaw), but the public isnt aware of Strata Act either.

Im really disturbed that landowners around (Whitetail Lake) and the public were not consulted, said Bill. I totally support (this bylaw) its one more restriction to stop whole land sale and the influx of people into a wild area.

Support for the bylaw was also offered by Jessica Hildebrant, who has managed the contract for the Whitetail Lake public campsite for five years.

Occupancy (of the sites) has been decreasing, she said. There are less outdoor users, complaints of noise and disruption to fishing, less fishermen, less campers it would have been nice to have a say from the start.

Earlier in the meeting, Bill Dubois voiced concern with how the bylaw was written, since if a developer meets all of the bylaws regulations with respect to minimum parcel size and density averaging, no public hearing is required. Where does that leave other land owners? he asked. Mr. Belanger confirmed there would be no public hearing in this case, based on the understanding that there is public process associated with the bylaw.

Ive heard countless times this bylaw brings a project to public, but it has nothing to do with it, said Mr. Benson. Its lot averaging, nothing to do with zoning. The public and regional district dont have a say, which further emphasizes my point of the regional district ramming this through.

The bylaw changes the rules around lot averaging, and by narrowing options, it forces applications into the zoning process where there will be a public hearing, responded Mr. McLeod. If adopted, what effect the bylaw would have on Whitetail Lake beyond one year is uncertain, said Mr. Belanger.