Lacombe County raises concerns about city’s environmental reserve

The City of Lacombe should require bigger buffers around water bodies to ensure they are not affected by future development, says Lacombe County. The county was asked for its input on a new City of Lacombe Municipal Development (MDP) Plan, the overall development guide for a community.

The City of Lacombe should require bigger buffers around water bodies to ensure they are not affected by future development, says Lacombe County.

The county was asked for its input on a new City of Lacombe Municipal Development (MDP) Plan, the overall development guide for a community.

After review, the county has raised concerns that the city isn’t taking enough land for environmental reserve, which ensures it is not developed. The county wants to see the 15-metre reserve called for in the MDP doubled to 30 metres, a standard met in county planning documents.

Dale Freitag, county manager of planning services, said the county believes it’s important to maintain consistency among municipalities and that 30 metres offers better protection.

“The water course doesn’t know the difference between Lacombe County and the City of Lacombe,” said Freitag.

In some cases, a 15-metre setback may provide enough protection to lakes, rivers and streams — but maybe not in all.

“It’s best to err on the side of caution when you’re dealing with water bodies,” he said. “It’s much cheaper to take (setback) land now than down the road if you’re wrong.”

City planner Jennifer Kirchner said that the Municipal Government Act requires that a six-metre environmental reserve be set aside, and the city will add at least another nine metres of reserve to create a minimum 15-metre buffer zone.

“The 15 metres will serve to not only protect these environmental features but allow for the public to be able to enjoy these sites,” said Kirchner.

What the city is proposing is in line with the provincial government’s policies, she added.

“The city believes that this policy will ensure environmental areas are protected and accessible to the community and will support diverse development to occur in Lacombe.”

The city also pointed out in a written reply to the county that requiring a 30-metre reserve might leave the municipality unable to take enough municipal reserve land, which is typically used for recreation. Regulations are tighter for environmental reserves, which must be kept in their natural state and can be used for parks.

City of Lacombe is holding a public hearing in council chambers on May 25 on its MDP.

The county has raised similar concerns about ensuring 30-metre setbacks in a Sylvan Lake MDP. An appeal was launched and it is close to being resolved with the help of a mediator.

Some county councillors have suggested it might be time for all Sylvan Lake communities to get together to work out a consistent set of development guidelines, including setbacks from the water’s edge.

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