Lacombe County council has unanimously passed a controversial plan to guide development around Sylvan Lake that drew criticism from neighbouring municipalities, landowners and a lake watchdog group.
The Sylvan Lake Area Structure Plan covers about 18,555 acres of land that fall within the county on the east and west sides of the lake. It was made in the face of considerable development pressure and will chart a timetable and growth pattern in the areas that municipalities around the lake identified for development.
The plan suggests a maximum of 8,500 homes and 21,000 could be added to the area over coming decades.
Some municipalities expressed concern that lake quality could be protected in the face of so much development. The Town of Sylvan Lake urged the county to slow down and work out an intermunicipal development plan with other municipalities before going ahead with an area structure plan. The county rejected that idea.
The Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society also feared the plan did not include enough protection for the lake, which is already considered a fragile natural asset.
County Councillor Bill Knight expressed confidence in the plan after the vote on Thursday.
“I’m happy because now people know where the lines are, they know the restrictions and they know what they can do,” said Knight. “I think it will open it up for the people that want to develop.”
“(Development) will be really orderly. The way it was before, everyone was jumping all over.
“I think this plan will help protect the lake.”
County Reeve Terry Engen acknowledged the criticism the municipality faced over its plan.
“We’ve taken a lot of those criticisms and I think some of the amendments today shows that the public hearing process works. There were comments made with potential changes and I think we made those changes today.”
For instance, no new RV parks will be allowed in the first two phases of lake development until a new boat launch is built. This reflects concerns that existing launches would be swamped with newcomers if no other outlets are built for boaters.
“At the end of the day, the plan is going to be restrictive,” he said, addressing concerns that the plan was too weighted towards allowing development.
Engen said the plan clearly establishes a phased pattern of development around the lake and all new developments must connect to the regional sewer line that will eventually be built. The first 10-km section is nearing completion just north of the Town of Sylvan Lake.
“That was the goal, I think, to have a sequential movement around the lake and everything follows a wastewater line, and I think we have accomplished that.
“I know that certainly we have to work a little harder to bring some of our existing residents, and certainly the summer villages, on side so that they understood too that new developments are not always the problem. A lot of the existing ones need to be cleaned up, too.”
The plan also calls for two-year development review periods after the first 2,000 units are built, and for every 1,000 units after that. During the review periods, no rezoning or subdivision approvals will be allowed in lakeside development areas.
Councillor Linda Landmark could not vote because she was not at an earlier public hearing on the plan.