Former Stettler County development officer submits open letter re controversial Paradise Shores development along Buffalo Lake

To Alberta Press Leader in response to this article

 http://albertapressleader.ca/developer-of-controversial-paradise-shores-not-backing-down/?fbclid=IwAR19-BspmjvlVBBEsj1WIEUoasylD4Z5EIliQFSZW_3QstLViqaYWumITVc 

If your news outlet truly puts out “News that you can trust” you will put out the attached press release that I issued on May 24, 2019 in response to this article by Drew Anderson of CBC.ca:https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/stettler-county-paradise-shores-rv-park-dispute-stop-work-1.5146413 and you would do so in a balanced and fair manner. Your article is very much on the same theme as CBC.ca and so my open letter to Drew Anderson also applies for your article. My press release is in defense of the planning profession in Alberta.

Sincerely,

Johan van der Bank, Stettler, AB

Johan van der Bank. CBC news photo

Hello Drew:

In response to your article on the CBC News website entitled “Stettler County and developer clash over stop work order for controversial RV park” on the Paradise Shores development at Buffalo Lake on May 23, 2019 (link provided above), I have the following comments. I am copying this email to the Alberta Professional Planners Institute, the County Councillors, the County CAO, the County development officers and the professional planners in adjacent counties. I will also attempt (considering the length of this piece) to post this under comments below your news article and other local media, in defense of my own professional reputation and the reputation of the planning profession in Alberta and Canada:

  1. The manner in which the media has reported in 2018 and continues to report on my role in the Paradise Shores saga has been and continues to be harmful to me personally and professionally, and to the planning profession in Alberta and Canada. I hope that you will consider taking a more balanced view.
  2. When I was employed by the County of Stettler I could not speak out to defend my role in the Paradise Shores project. Now that I am no longer employed by the County, I am free to speak out within the restrictions of a non-disclosure agreement between the County and myself. I feel it is necessary for me to speak out primarily in defense of my reputation as a Registered Professional Planner and the planning profession generally. Everything that I state below is public knowledge and nothing is stated for any other reason than to defend my reputation as a Registered Professional Planner. I further believe that I have a duty pursuant to the Professional Code of Practice for Registered Professional Planners to make these statements in the interest of the profession, the Canadian Institute of Planners and the Alberta Professional Planners Institute.
  3. At no point in the application review process did I lead the developer to think that I had any authority to approve the project in my capacity as the development officer. The developer was fully aware that my role was limited to facilitating the review process, ensuring all relevant requirements were satisfied and making recommendations to the County Council and the Municipal Planning Commission. These bodies, which both consisted of the elected Councillors, had the authority to overrule my recommendations.
  4. In your article you quoted an adjacent landowner as saying that “the County was perhaps lenient and gave the developer a false sense of confidence” and that there are “zero infrastructure and zero permits” for the existing construction on the property. These statements are not correct, and I am of the opinion that the landowner who was quoted should know this. I can say this without hesitation because in April/May 2018 I sat down with him and his father-in-law for almost three hours to walk them through the application review process. The facts that I related to them were based on the following:

a. The County was not lenient on the developer. I was the director of planning and development for the County for the past eleven years. This developer has done more studies than any developer in the County before him, during the time that I worked for the County. These studies included: an emergency response plan, a wetland assessment, a shoreline habitat survey, a sharptail grouse survey, a piping plover survey, a grassland bird species survey, an amphibian survey, a species survey report, a raptor nest survey, a sensitive raptor survey, an erosion and sedimentation control plan, an environmental protection plan, an archaeological research permit issued by the provincial department of Culture and Tourism, a request to Transport Canada for a dock assessment, a Department of Fisheries and Oceans request for review, and applications to Alberta Environment and Parks under the Water Act, the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and the Public Lands Act for wastewater management, storm water management and access to the lake and across the provincial water management ROW.

b. Upon application by the developer under the federal and provincial legislation pertaining to environmental impact assessment requirements, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and Alberta Environment and Parks issued letters stating that an environmental impact assessment for the project was not required. Regardless of those decision letters, the developer proceeded to undertake all of the above environmental studies for his own due diligence.

c. The Buffalo Lake South Shore Intermunicipal Development Plan required that the developer undertake a traffic impact assessment for the Paradise Shores Area Structure Plan. That is the only study that was required as part of the area structure plan process (since utility servicing for the project is private, these matters were not required to be addressed in specific detail for the area structure plan process, by definition in the Municipal Government Act). By the time that the intermunicipal dispute was resolved, the traffic impact study had been completed and was presented to County Council before Council adopted the area structure plan for the property. The only other “study” that the Buffalo Lake South Shore Intermunicipal Development Plan requires is an “environmental review” at the development permit stage. An “environmental review” is not a clearly defined concept. Regardless, in my opinion the developer exceeded the expectations for “environmental review”, as is evidenced by the list of completed studies stated above.

d. The developer’s apparent “false confidence” in the project outcome was based on the provisions of the Buffalo Lake South Shore Intermunicipal Development Plan, which is a statutory plan under the Municipal Government Act and which was completed to a level of detail for an area structure plan. This plan identifies the property for a range of development options, which included a recreational facility and campground. One purpose of a statutory plan is to bring a level of certainty about future development potential of land in an area, not only for adjacent landowners but also for developers. When this plan was prepared in 2012 and 2013 it included one of the more comprehensive public consultation processes that I have been involved in during my career of 25 years as a professional planner. Once the intermunicipal dispute over the project was resolved between the County, the Summer Village of White Sands and the Summer Village of Rochon Sands, the summer villages withdrew their disputes in writing and the Paradise Shores Area Structure Plan was amended to reduce the number of RVs from 1,000 to 750. That signalled the end of the intermunicipal dispute and that was the basis on which the County Council was legally allowed to adopt the amended area structure plan and the rezoning bylaw for the property. This dispute resolution made the statutory plans consistent with each other, and in my opinion the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board could possibly have erred in ruling otherwise, which remains to be decided by a Court of Appeal. The point is, considering the fact that the intermunicipal dispute was resolved, thereby making the statutory plans consistent, and the area structure plan was amended and then adopted by County Council and the property was rezoned, you bet that the developer felt confident over the ultimate outcome of the project – under those circumstances any developer would feel confident – in this case it appears that the statutory plans ultimately were not afforded the status that they should have been. The developer did start site preparation and subgrade work earlier, but that was done legally pursuant to provisions in the County’s land use bylaw, and he suspended work during the 60-day intermunicipal dispute and did not bring RVs onto the property until he had an approval for the development permit application from the County’s Municipal Planning Commission, which was given just before the July 1 long weekend in 2018. All of this on-site work was done in accordance with the professionally engineered plans for water, wastewater and storm water management and in accordance with the provisions of the Paradise Shores Area Structure Plan (e.g. protection of the lake bank and shore and of the wetlands). The developer’s “false confidence” was therefore justified, and apparently the County administration agreed at the time, as is demonstrated by the following quotes from page 18 of the County Connections newsletter (spring 2018 edition) which is available on the County’s website (note that I was not the author of this article in the County Connections magazine):

“It is not uncommon for a developer to advertise, and even pre-sell lots when they have some degree of certainty their development will be approved. In this case, the developer was advised that the Buffalo Lake South Shore Intermunicipal Development Plan (BLSSIDP) established in 2013 identifies the property for recreational residential development (sic), and being a statutory plan adopted by bylaw, the County would not be in a position to refuse the application.”

and

“The County and the Summer Villages do have control over how the development is implemented, for example conditions that can be imposed on the development permit, etc. The developer acknowledges this and has made pre-sale contracts subject to municipal approval.”

and

“Now the developer has an application in to the County, it is typical to allow the developer to start preparing the site by removing old structures etc. If they do, they do so at their own risk. Please be aware, you may see construction equipment on-site.”

and

“Access along Bayview Street is an important item. Please note the developer initially preferred not to use Bayview Street for access. However, the County required the half mile of road dedication between the east end of Bayview Street by Buffalo View Estates to Range Road 20-4 near White Sands. This extension of Bayview Street is identified in the Buffalo Lake South Shore IDP as an important part of the road network to improve traffic flows generally and for emergency access, as Highway 835 is presently the only access/egress into and out of the area where hundreds of people live and recreate. All three municipalities adopted the BLSSIDP in 2013 after public consultation. Therefore the reality of this road and its purpose has been public knowledge since then.”

e. The project is serviced by a private potable water system, a private wastewater system and a private storm water system. The potable water system has permits from the Alberta Safety Codes Authority under the Safety Codes Act. The County has copies of these permits. These permits are public documents. The wastewater system also has permits from the Alberta Safety Codes Authority (ASCA) under the Safety Codes Act. The County also has copies of these permits and these permits are public documents as well. During the application review process for the wastewater system Alberta Environment and Parks assumed authority over the wastewater system (from ASCA) and the developer duly made an application under the relevant legislation. The water, wastewater and storm water management systems were designed by a professional engineer to the required specifications and the County has copies of the professionally engineered plans that were submitted to Alberta Environment and Parks. The County does not provide water, wastewater and storm water utilities to service the subject property, and the County’s land use bylaw states that under these circumstances it is the landowner’s responsibility to obtain any relevant approvals from federal and provincial agencies. As such the County is not and should not be involved in the approval of these matters.

f. From the start Alberta Environment and Parks stated and continues the position that they will not issue approvals for the wastewater system and the storm water system under their jurisdiction until the County has issued a development permit.

g. As part of the development permit application the developer prepared a wetland assessment and made an application under relevant provincial legislation for review and approval by Alberta Environment and Parks. In the area where existing development has been constructed, there are no wetlands present.

h. Regarding slope stability, I am not a geotechnical engineer (and neither are any current employees of the County), but I will say this: the County’s land use bylaw states that a geotechnical study is required when buildings are located within 30 meters of a slope that exceeds a 15% grade. In such a case a geotechnical study would be required to support a lesser setback distance. No buildings as defined in the County’s land use bylaw are located within 30 meters of such slopes on the subject property. The relevant slopes have not been disturbed before or during construction and remain naturally vegetated. In the County’s land use bylaw a parking pad for an RV and an RV itself are excluded from the definition of structure or building.

5. You stated in your article that “the County was accused of fast-tracking” the project and that I personally used “an unconventional process to get the project approved quickly”. Please note that these were and remain mere allegations. An allegation does not mean that it is true. An allegation is sometimes made maliciously to cast doubt over a person or over a thing. Your article quotes from a part of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy documents that included my private notes. These notes were not a letter to the developer, they were not a secret note, email or memorandum to the developer. I wrote those notes for my own use in preparation of a meeting that I called between the developer, the County’s CAO and myself early in March 2018. I never gave those notes to the developer or to the CAO. I used those notes for my purpose of leading the discussion in that meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to ensure that the developer was aware of the requirements and timelines for the project review, which at the time appeared to me not to have been the case. I can say without any hesitation that subsequent to that meeting the developer responded positively and satisfactorily to the requirements and timelines. I did not at the time nor do I now have anything to hide pertaining to my role in this project. As a result, at the time I felt it was prudent for me to file my private notes as part of the project file. Those notes have and apparently seem to continue to be pulled out of context. I trust that this will be the end of that. The County administration and the County Council were aware and in fact approved the early release of the applications to the public for very specific reasons. I quote again from page 18 of the County Connections newsletter (spring 2018 edition) which is available on the County’s website (note that I was not the author of this article in the County Connections magazine):

“Historically, the County would not advertise an application to the public that has not yet been seen by the County Council. However, under the circumstances, staff felt it was prudent to get this information out to the stakeholders as soon as possible and Council and Administration made the steps do so.”

In my experience the project was not “fast-tracked” even if a decision was made to start working on formulating the development permit conditions while the area structure plan and rezoning bylaws were being processed and disputed. As I stated during the appeal hearing in September 2018, if one understood the legislative requirements for adopting a bylaw and approving a development permit one would have known that there is no room for “fast-tracking” an application. This should be clear when one considers the fact that the applications for the area structure plan and rezoning bylaws and for the development permit were submitted on January 24, 2018 and the development permit was approved by the Municipal Planning Commission on June 27, 2018. That is more than five months and I can tell you from experience that there is probably no other similar application that took that long to process in the eleven years that I worked for the County. Other municipalities may have taken much longer or shorter to process such an application, and every municipality is different. In this case, I was able to dedicate a lot of time to the project and that is part of the reason why it did not take as long as it may have taken at any other municipality. Based on feedback that I received from the County Councillors and administration regarding the significant benefit that the proposed development could bring to the County, I volunteered many hundreds of hours of overtime during the five months and willingly endured public ridicule and defamation for the sole purpose of responding positively to the developer’s goals while ensuring that the project was facilitated within the legislative framework of the Municipal Government Act, the County’s statutory plans and the land use bylaw.

Any public perception of bias on my part must be viewed in this context and in the context of the fact that as the County’s development officer it was my duty to interpret and defend the County’s statutory plans with integrity, to the best of my ability and as objectively as humanly possible. In the context of the Professional Code of Practice for Registered Professional Planners I did not have the liberty of changing my interpretation of the legislative framework as a result of public pressure.

Please refrain from making connections between my role in the Paradise Shores saga and the termination of my employment contract with the County. Officially (as stated publicly by a County Councillor) and as far as I have been informed, the termination of my employment contract had nothing to do with my role in the Paradise Shores saga.

Drew, as a journalist of integrity you should consider making the necessary corrections and clarifications to your May 23, 2019 article, based on the above information. You are welcome to call me at (403) 742-0237 if you had any questions.

Sincerely, Johan van der Bank, Stettler, AB

The Milestone Hotel & Residences eget Phasellus Praesent dictum non et, elit.