Mountain View residents form association to battle local government

Fed-up Mountain View County residents have formed an association to draw attention to overly restrictive development rules that they say erode landowner rights and stifle business opportunities.

Fed-up Mountain View County residents have formed an association to draw attention to overly restrictive development rules that they say erode landowner rights and stifle business opportunities.

Paddy Munro, president of the newly formed Rural Roots Association, said a proposed revamp of the county’s land use bylaw goes too far.

“The land use bylaw is just so restrictive. They have just gone to extremes,” said Munro, a Sundre-area carpenter. “It’s like a big city urban plan and we’re just a little country county.”

Munro is spearheading the effort to mobilize residents to pressure the county to significantly change the bylaw, which directs development in the municipality, to better represent the views of landowners.

The bylaw gives county staff too much discretion to decide whether a permit is approved or not, he said. “If you’ve got somebody mad at you, you’re toast.”

The county is not listening to residents when it comes to the types of high-density developments being allowed in rural areas, he added. In one area near Sundre, residents are practically in revolt over the prospect of a 50-home subdivision being developed in the country.

“We want to put some common sense in our local government,” he said, adding it’s time to shrink the bureaucracy.

“If we could force an election, that would be the best thing. There’s no doubt in my mind people have had enough now.”

The association has already struck a chord with many residents. Munro raised $10,000 within days and the emails are pouring in from supporters.

Two full-page ads have been taken out in the Mountain View Gazette, and the association plans to run radio ads and is setting up five public meetings beginning Oct. 19 to encourage residents to send a strong message to county officials and elected representatives. A petition will also be started, once the suitable wording has been approved by a lawyer hired by the association.

Former MP Myron Thompson has been hired as a consultant on a $6,000-a-month contract to pitch the association’s message and act as spokesman.

County Reeve Al Kemmere said he’s disappointed that the association has taken its campaign out to the public and the media without trying to meet with the county first.

“I just believe that’s where this discussion should start. If they’ve exhausted all that avenue then I could I guess understand their approach a little bit better.”

Kemmere said council is more than willing to listen to residents’ concerns and would welcome an opportunity to meet to discuss the issues. Residents routinely make presentations to council at the policies and priorities meetings.

The new land use bylaw is being developed to replace a nearly 15-year-old document that is out of date. The document has been improved to streamline the planning and approval process, and in many cases is less restrictive than the old regulations.

“A lot of the things they are saying we’re being very restrictive on is actually the other way round.”

Kemmere said many of the concerns outlined in an ad appear to be connected with development. The county must find a balance between those who want the doors opened wide to development and those who feel the county has enough.

“That’s the approach we’ve taken. That’s going to create some frustrations, there’s no doubt about it. In the development community, where a large portion of these people are from are going to find that frustrating.”

Thompson said ratepayers want changes to the way the county is being run.

“The taxpayers and ratepayers are sick and tired of what’s going on. They want it stopped,” said Thompson Monday. “They are infringing on property rights to a degree that’s unbelievable.”

Thompson said there are so many bureaucratic hoops to jump through for landowners that permit applications get hung up without a decision for years.

“It’s just getting out of control.”

Thompson said the frustration levels among rural landowners are high. “The anger is at a level I’ve never seen. The people want some action and they want it now.”

While Mountain View County is the target, it’s a situation that is being repeated in other municipalities across the country, he said.