The MD of Bighorn administration building in Exshaw.File Photo/Rocky Mountain Outlook

A site-specific amendment to yard setback requirements in a recreational use area in the MD of Bighorn will be up for consideration after council defeated a proposed bylaw to change the entire district.

The proposed adjustment to the Rafter Six area structure plan (ASP) and tourist and recreation district’s rear, front and yard setbacks from 30 metres to five was met with opposition in public hearings, including from owners of Star 6 Ranch, whose land covers the vast majority of the district in question.

There was, however, also some support for setback variances in the area with the bylaw coming forward after adjacent landowners requested a permit to build a home on their 0.549-hectare parcel of land.

Coun. Alice James asked if the current ASP setback could be kept at 30m and be adjusted where new development is being reviewed.

“I feel as though that is what was expressed at the public hearing and that is how the visitors as well as the landowners and the area would be best served,” she said.

Reeve Lisa Rosvold agreed with James but asked why council could not proceed with simply amending the bylaw instead of restarting the process and having to set another public hearing.

“I don’t understand why we can’t take the considerations from the public hearing and then make the changes required. We’ve heard from the public [and] they’re very clear in supporting 0.549 hectares, they weren’t supportive of the rest. Why can’t we proceed with what they were supportive of?” she said.

“To have to start the whole process over and to hear the same comments coming back, again, to me it seems redundant and like a little bit of a waste of administration and council’s time to start this over, only to hear from the same people and to hear them say the same things.”

MD CAO Shaina Tutt said the bylaw’s intent is changed by making it site specific and council is bound by the Municipal Government Act to start the process over again.

“The cleanest way to manage this is to defeat second reading of the proposed bylaw and then move forward with direction to administration to draft a new bylaw as a second motion,” she suggested.

The 0.549-hectare parcel in question is owned by Gloria Cowley, who said her family intends to build a home on a 600-square-foot area where an Atco-style mobile trailer currently sits.

A setback change was requested in Cowley’s development application as the home would fall within the setback area, and to improve the family’s quality of life and use of the property.

Prior to running Cowley Outfitters Ltd., Cowley and her husband Stan owned and operated Rafter Six Ranch. The ranch went bankrupt in a sideways deal with another company that planned to make it into a five-star resort, ultimately ending with the Cowley’s losing their land and livelihood.

The Cowley’s now run their scaled-back business next door to Star 6 Ranch, which reported the family’s mobile trailer to the MD of Bighorn as non-compliant with yard setbacks in October 2022.

“It was my hope that the MD would investigate and enforce the setback provisions in its existing bylaw,” wrote Star 6 Ranch owner of Fionna Mactaggart in a letter to the MD. “The Star 6 Ranch was informed soon after that council was considering a bylaw change that would decrease the setback provisions in the LUB for this district by 600 per cent.”

According to a staff report, the setback proposal considered factors such as topographic limitations. It also noted the 30m setback requirement was a carryover from standard agricultural setbacks.

The report stated reducing the setback wouldn’t impact or interfere with the amenities of the area, however, there were concerns of adjusting the 30-m setbacks district-wide related to clearcutting wide swaths of forest for development, and potential implications to wildlife corridors in the absence of appropriate studies being undertaken.

Some people who voiced opposition during a Feb. 7, 2023, public hearing said it was felt a 20-30m setback should be maintained to protect riparian areas and reduce risk of flooding from the Kananaskis River.

MD development planner Hafsat Adebayo noted the setback can’t be reduced to five metres on parts of the property due to proximity of the river and provincial setbacks on the water body overriding the municipality’s land use bylaw.

Particularly where there are topographical challenges associated with the property, the staff report noted the bylaw amendment should have been applied on a site-specific basis.

“To do this, however, constitutes a substantial amendment to the first reading submission, and to the substance of the bylaw that was presented for public hearing,” the report stated. “The only way we could consider this amendment on a site-specific basis (for the benefit of one landowner only) would be to put forward a new application, which would involve presenting again for first reading and having another public hearing.”

A new bylaw will be drafted by administration and come to council for consideration at a future meeting. 

By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jan 10, 2024 at 14:28

This item reprinted with permission from   Rocky Mountain Outlook   Canmore, Alberta

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