Photo from Town of Sylvan Lake Facebook page

Sylvan Lake communities band together on development plan

Sylvan Lake Intermunicipal Development Plan expected to be approved next spring

Eight municipalities around Sylvan Lake have come together on a plan to manage the water body.

The Sylvan Lake Intermunicipal Development Plan is aimed at protecting the environment and watersheds by agreeing on the best ways to allow development without harming the lake.

Similar efforts were undertaken as far back as the mid-1980s, and produced the Sylvan Lake Management Plan, later updated in 2000.

However, that plan was criticized by some for offering only recommendations, not enforceable regulations.

“All of the bylaws and regulations that we will be drafting as municipalities will need to be in line with the IDP,” said Sylvan Lake Mayor Sean McIntyre.

“So, that is major progress in working together as a region.”

A public hearing with both in-person and Zoom attendance was held last Saturday with dozens of municipal representatives and members of the public participating.

Most questions from the public revolved around what the overall effect of the plan would be and whether it would drive up development costs.

McIntyre said municipalities came to an agreement on what sort of protections should be in place, but municipalities still have scope to adopt their own standards and regulations.

The plan includes the Town of Sylvan Lake, Lacombe and Red Deer counties and the summer villages of Half Moon Bay, Norglenwold, Sunbreaker Cove, Birchcliff and Jarvis Bay.

“The whole focus of the IDP is to have harmonized standards around the lake that help protect the environment and respect all of the municipalities’ abilities to grow and sustain themselves,” he said.

“There may be increased costs on developers for new areas,” he said.

However, the IDP is based on the policies municipalities already had in place, so there is little in the plan that will come as a surprise to developers, McIntyre said.

“The items that developers have to meet won’t be new to them.

“Each municipality will have its own authority to govern development within its jurisdiction. Now, we have agreements on what type of things should be protected. The IDP does not supersede each municipality’s decision-making authority.

“A regional intermunicipal development plan is rare. We’ve been working towards an agreement such as this for more than 20 years.

“The fact that we’ve been able to come together to plan together to make some compromises along the way and to be able to develop a document that we all agree to is a major accomplishment.”

The IDP is still a work in progress. Feedback from the public hearings and other input will be reviewed before a final version is ready for approval by municipalities next April.

The plan requires municipalities to enforce setbacks — usually at least 30 metres — from water bodies.

Each municipality in the plan must also map out environmentally sensitive areas. Developing in or near those would require a higher level of environmental studies.

The plan also envisions new boat launches, the need for which has long been an issue on the lake. Municipalities are required to co-operate on a lake management plan and cost-sharing agreements.

A pair of sites, one for motorized boats and the other for non-motorized boats only, on the west side of the lake have been identified.

“We’re definitely looking forward to that,” McIntyre said.

“We need to ensure that people have safe access on to and off the lake in all seasons.”

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