Lacombe County reinforces environmental protections

County council supports 30-metre development setbacks from water bodies

Lacombe County reinforced its commitment to keeping development at least 30 metres away from development.

Council approved changes to the Sylvan Lake Area Structure Plan on Thursday that enshrines the 30-metre development setback from water bodies. That setback is already in place in the county’s Municipal Development Plan, its overarching planning document.

There is some concern with the setback in the development community, mostly around how water bodies are defined. The setback applies to lakes, permanent streams, wetlands and “ephemeral streams,” which are defined as temporary, often only running during spring runoff.

Developer Qualico Communities called for more site-specific interpretation in how setbacks are applied to reflect local conditions and to allow approving authorities to have more discretion.

Another developer noted setback on either side of a small temporary drainage channel could mean 60 metres is off limits to development, a “fairly large swath.”

Coun. Rod McDermand questioned whether the setbacks were “sterilizing” property from development.

Dale Freitag, the county’s manager of planning services, said the restriction does not apply to areas that are mostly water-free, such as an area of a farmer’s field where water drains in spring but is farmed as soon as the land dries.

“That’s not the stuff we’re talking about,” said Freitag. “The intent is to protect riparian areas.”

Those include areas where wetlands-type plants such as reeds and bullrushes are growing.

The need to protect those kinds of areas was a message sent loud and clear by the public when the Municipal Development Plan was created, he said.

When developers are applying for their approvals reports from experts are typically required to indicate whether setbacks are required and would be reviewed by county planners.

“There are checks and balances in the system,” he said.

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