ROCKY MOUNTAIN HOUSE — Despite vocal opposition from rural residents, a local developer landed Clearwater County approval on Wednesday to build a controversial 54-lot subdivision on farmland south of the town.
In a squeaker 4-3 vote, council approved rezoning 152 acres from agricultural to country residential use about five kilometres south of Rocky. An outline plan for the Meadow Ponds Estates subdivision also passed by a similar count.
More than 50 local opponents turned out for the special council meeting that came on the heels of a marathon six-hour public hearing on Feb. 14 that drew a standing room crowd of close to 100.
“I think we’re all disappointed,” said Marianne Cole, a member of a group of residents opposed to the project from the nearby Everdell subdivision called Everdell Quality of Life.
Another member of the group and former Clearwater County councillor Ken Qually also expressed his dismay.
“The people have spoken to the councillors and the councillors aren’t listening,” said Qually. “It was 100 to one (against).”
Qually said he was on council when the county developed a new municipal development plan (MDP). That document to provide a road map for future development was not followed, he said.
“It does not meet the intent of the MDP. The intent of the MDP was to preserve agricultural land,” he said.
Clearwater Reeve Pat Alexander voted in favour of Meadow Ponds, saying during the meeting that it met the county’s municipal development plan, which he called a “very restrictive plan.”
Alexander said many of the community’s concerns about water treatment and the layout of lots will be addressed at the county’s development permit stage.
Coun. Earl Graham said during public meetings that preceded the adoption of the municipal development in 2010 it was clear landowners did not want their right to change the use of their land taken away. It is council’s job to weigh the suitability of those applications and make a decision, said Graham, who voted in favour of rezoning and the outline plan.
A similar rationale was voiced by Coun. John Vandermeer, who said the development will be subject to a number of conditions as it moves through the approval process.
“I do support the concept of individual property rights for landowners, so I will be voting in favour.”
Coun. Bob Bryant, who had voted against the application on a previous occasion but was in favour on Wednesday, said he was satisfied the project met the intent of the county’s municipal development plan.
Among those opposed to rezoning was Coun. Dick Wymenga, who said the number one concern of residents was preserving agricultural land.
“This is farmland that has been farmed for three generations,” he said, adding similar applications from the developer had been turned down previously.
“In Alberta, we are paving farmland at an alarming rate.”
Coun. Case Korver said he wants to see communities enhanced with new development but it should be directed toward existing hamlets.
Citing the “overwhelming opposition,” Coun. Jim Duncan said council needs to look at the social effects of approving new developments, adding residents are already concerned by the number of rural housing developments in the area.
The crowd did not hide its feelings as the councillors explained their vote. Applause followed the comments of those opposed.
At one point, as Bryant tried to call for some order from those catcalling, a man shouted, “We put you in there. We can put you out.”
Developer Darren Bauer admitted to some relief following the vote.
“Of course. It’s been six years. We had a vision.”
This was his fourth attempt in six years to get county approval for the project.
Bauer said he hopes that those opposed to the project will be willing to offer positive suggestions as the project moves forward.
“It’s going to be part of their community and part of our community.”
Meadow Ponds is the first multi-lot subdivision under the county’s new development plan and will be the first to use communal water and wastewater systems rather than individual wells and septic systems.
Bauer said the site chosen for the development has limited agricultural value and is a good spot for housing because of its proximity to good roads and school bus routes.
There is still much geotechnical and engineering work ahead before construction can begin, he said. Provincial approvals are also needed for water and sewage systems as well as roads.
Municipal subdivision approval will also be required and a development agreement signed.