A Palm Bay property owner on Sylvan Lake must remove elaborate improvements constructed on a Lacombe County environmental reserve. (Photo contributed)

Sylvan Lake property owner ordered to remove encroachments

Property owner built patio, paths, fence on county-owned environmental reserve

The owner of a lakeside property on Sylvan Lake has been ordered to remove elaborate landscaping featuring flagstone paths, stairs and patio with fire pit built on a Lacombe County environmental reserve.

The property in the Palm Bay subdivision at the northern tip of Sylvan Lake is up for sale and the owner hoped to sign an encroachment with the county allowing the improvements to remain made on the 30-metre environmental reserve.

However, county planning staff said the encroachments violate a policy established in 2006 because of an increasing number of situations where property owner were constructing often quite extensive improvements to their lots up to the water’s edge through county-owned land.

The owner of the Palm Bay property was notified of the county’s new policy by registered mail in 2008 but went ahead with upgrades in the years following anyway.

In April, the property owner and his realtor went before county council to request an encroachment agreement be approved that would remain in place for the next owner.

In recognition that many encroachments had been in place for many years before the new policy was passed, Lacombe County allowed property owners to sign encroachment agreements in some cases. The agreements were meant to allow stairs or similar structures to remain in place that allowed people to get to the lake where the banks were steep. Landscaping features, such as patios, sheds, decks, fences and fire pits were not allowed and had to be removed.

“The primary goal of encroachment agreements was to provide lake access in subdivisions without the provision of public access points. Within Palm Bay the banks are much more gradual to the water’s edge and a county road allowance on the west side of the development facilitates public access to the lake.”

On the property in question, “the environmental reserve there is gradually sloping land that could easily be used by the public if a fence was not put in place across the reserve to the shoreline “which increases the perception of the area being ‘privately owned.’

“A private facility that seriously impedes public access to or along environmental reserve land is strictly prohibited” under the county’s 2006 policy.

Last Thursday, county council unanimously voted against entering into an encroachment agreement with the Palm Bay property owner and unanimously directed the county manager to order that the reclamation of the environmental reserve be completed within a year.

County manager Tim Timmons said in the coming weeks the property owner will be required to submit a reclamation plan.

“At that point in time, we’ll make a determination relative to what has to be removed,” adding stairs, the path and fire pit will have to go. A terraced area and a fence will also be reviewed.

“That reserve was in place for a reason and when it’s abused to the extent it was in this situation then that’s when we really have to take action.”

Timmons said the encroachment policy was developed because of the number of structures that had popped up on Gull and Sylvan Lakes over the years. The policy was developed after consultation with lakeside property owners and other county residents as well as the farming community.

Lacombe County is dealing with a number of similar situations. In the past year, reclamation of county easements has been ordered in three cases. Two have been done and a third is underway.

The environmental reserve at Palm Bay is meant to provide “riparian buffering,” says the county. Reserves provide runoff filtration and dissipation, flood mitigation and preservation of wildlife habitat.

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