Red Deer County residents fighting a proposed multi-lot subdivision were crying foul after a short-handed council approved a plan for the project.
Nearly 30 residents went to the mic at Red Deer County Centre on Tuesday afternoon to voice their opposition to the proposal to build the 39-lot Poplar Pointe Estates about five km west of Red Deer near the Poplar Ridge and Harvey Heights subdivisions.
Many were concerned that the project would deplete precious drinking water resources, put nearby subdivisions at risk from sewage leaks and overcrowd local roadways.
Residents also questioned why Mayor Jim Wood and the councillor for the area, Christine Moore, were excluded from the public hearing and vote on an area structure plan for the development.
The two were absent on the advice of county lawyers because of questions of bias.
After council voted against the area structure plan on Feb. 2 the developer raised concerns that the mayor and councillor may have heard information at a resident-organized public meeting they attended several days earlier that influenced their decision.
Wood said later the pair were careful only to speak briefly to residents about the planning process and did not participate in the meeting. However, he acknowledged that perception of bias is what matters in law and the two should not have attended. Both had voted against the area structure plan.
To remove any perception of bias, the lawyers advised a second public hearing be held without the participation of Moore or Wood.
Without those two voting, an area structure plan for the project was approved 3-2 on Tuesday, with councillors Connie Huelsman and Jean Bota opposed.
“Why was our mayor and councillor excluded from this process?” asked Philip Ignacio outside council chambers.
Sandra Hengstler said residents feel that council ignored their concerns.
“We weren’t heard. Nobody was heard,” said Hengstler.
“It’s very wrong that the mayor and Coun. Christine Moore were excluded from this meeting,” said Carol Cunningham. “They represent our voice.”
Cunningham was among many residents who feared adding 39 more homes would deplete water supplies. When her father bought their land in 1948 the water was “wonderful,” she said.
“Now, I don’t want my dog to drink it.”
Coun. Philip Massier told residents the project is a long way from getting final approvals. Concerns about water, sewage and traffic can be addressed before subdivision is approved, he said.
Massier said he liked that the developers were proposing a “state-of-the-art” communal sewage treatment system and the development will be required to tie into a regional water and sewage systems when they become available.
More stringent regulations are in place now for multi-lot subdivisions compared with years ago, he said.
“We have learnt from past mistakes. I think we’re trying to address concerns.”
Coun. Richard Lorenz said concerns about traffic, water and sewer will be addressed before subdivision approval and joined Coun. Don Church in voting in favour.
Coun. Bota said water availability is becoming more of an issue and she preferred new development wait for a regional sewer line.
“At this time, I cannot support this because I think there’s way more homework to be done.”
Developer Reg Whyte was pleased with council’s decision and is confident in the hydrogeology reports that show there is plenty of water available for the development.
A hydrogeologist, who had reviewed water studies for the project, said at the pubic hearing there was enough water for a development double the size. He presented a map showing that there are areas of low, medium and high water availability throughout the area.
Some of the homes experiencing water trouble are in low water supply areas, he said. Other well problems, including defects and bacteria buildup may also be leading to the issues some residents were facing.
Whyte said he has no timeline on when he expects to return to council for subdivision approval.