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County of Barrhead residents have their say at land-use bylaw public hearing

Between 50 and 70 residents voice their concerns about potential LUB amendments ranging from permitting farm accessory buildings to number of dogs allowed
Upwards of 70 County of Barrhead residents attended a public hearing about potential amendments to the municipality's land-use bylaw.

BARRHEAD - Understandability was the top concern County of Barrhead residents expressed during the June 6 public hearing on the amendments to the municipality's land-use bylaw at Glenreagh Community Hall.

Roughly 50 to 70 people attended the three-hour event.

Reeve Doug Drozd, who chaired the hearing, told attendees the purpose of a public hearing is for councillors to listen.

"It is not the intent of council to engage in debate or the points of views expressed," he said, adding administration staff were in attendance to clarify items and answer questions posted by council and the public.

People directly impacted by the bylaw could register beforehand and be allowed to speak first or come from the floor. All speakers had five minutes to speak, but the time was not strictly enforced. Residents could also submit their comments in writing, which about half a dozen did, with municipal staff adding them to the public record.

The municipality has been working on updating the document for more than two years. 

The last time the LUB was updated was in 2010.

Development officer Jenny Bruns said the municipality needs to update the bylaw to incorporate changes in societal land uses, such as short-term rental accommodations, such as Vrbo and Airbnbs, that did not exist 14 years ago, cryptocurrency, and cannabis operations, and to accommodate changes in Alberta's Municipal Government Act (MGA), which governs municipalities.

She also noted that most of the municipality's LUB has remained unchanged.

The hearing was the last of several public engagement sessions, the first on May 3, 2023.

First reading of the bylaw was on May 7 of this year. Councillors are expected to discuss the feedback from the public hearing at the June 25 meeting, with potential second and third readings set for July 2.

Bruns added that council can make changes to the bylaw anytime between the second and third reading or afterwards by application.

"If it is not working, or someone requires a change to make things work on their land," she said.

Confusing language 

The first speaker told councillors the bylaw's language was confusing and difficult to read. 

Specifically, she referred to the bylaw's definitions.

"They are convoluted and often contradict themselves in different parts," she said.

A Saralynne Dewar called the bylaw impossible to read.

"I don't know what it means. I don't know the rules or consequences," she said, adding that in many cases, the land-use bylaw refers to sections in the Municipal Government Act. "Who has a 650-page MGA around?"

Bruns sympathized with those who found the document difficult, admitting the language is complex and not including the sections of the MGA is more than inconvenient.

However, she said they do that as the MGA is constantly changing, and by not including specific sections of the document, they are prolonging the life of the LUB.

Dog limits

Coun. Jared Stoik asked administration to explain the changes to the LUB dog limit.

Bruns said the limit in an Agricultural District is four adult dogs, up from three in the current bylaw, while the limit in a non-agricultural, residential zone the limit is two.

She added the limit doesn't include dogs under six months old.

Community peace officer Shae Guy said the change is due to increased aggressive dog complaints in the municipality.

"Anyone who knows dogs is that when they get into a group, you can have issues with attacks, lunges and other aggressive behaviour," he said. "We are trying to limit that."

Guy added that although the proposed LUB, as the current one, limits the number of dogs a resident can have on a property, enforcement is "very much complaint-driven."

"I'm not going to go over to your acreage and count five dogs," he said. "But if your neighbour phones and says my neighbour's dog attacked my dog, and I come out and see five dogs, I will have that discussion with you. It is not a pro-active response; it will always be complaint-driven."

Guy added that in 2023, the municipality received three complaints about dogs chasing livestock. 

Farm accessory building size limit

Coun. Walter Preugschas asked how many municipalities' land-use bylaws include a similar stipulation regarding permitting farm buildings over a specific size.

Municipal Planning Services (MPS) senior planner Jane Dauphinee, whose company provides planning assistance to over 80 municipalities, said she wasn't sure about the number but that it was a reasonably common practice.

"Some rural municipalities don't require permits for accessory buildings associated with extensive agriculture," she said. "But there is a growing movement in the last five to 10 years to start requiring accessory farm building because the value of the structures has increased substantially. We have found that when you don't require a permit, they get put where they shouldn't, such as a road right-of-way or other people's property."

Bruns added that they modified the 500-square-foot limit to exclude grain storage due to public input.

Lorrie Jespersen, a farmer who operates a dairy near Thunder Lake, suggested the 500-square-foot limit was too small, calling it a small garage.

"With intensive farming operations, the buildings will be much bigger, and you say we can get a permit, but the question is, what are the costs of those permits? You can have a $5 permit or $5,000," he said. "It shouldn't be a burden on people just to get a permit."


Multiple speakers alleged that the county's contracted planning service, Municipal Planning Services (MPS), received the revenue from the development permits required.

"When the planning service is creating the [LUB], is getting paid every time a permit is required, that seems like it would be a big conflict of interest," Dewar said. "Why would they create minimal rules to govern people when they are getting paid every time I have to pay for a permit?"

Bruns replied that permit fees go to the municipality to offset the cost of providing services.

"It doesn't go to MPS," she said. "The only thing MPS is paid for is a subdivision application for the subdivision authority service where they are doing referrals, report writing and things like that."

Sea Cans

Preugschas said he has heard from many residents concerned about how sea cans are dealt with in the LUB, asking administration to clarify why they are treated differently than other accessory buildings.

MPS senior planner Jane Dauphinee said sea cans are remarkable structures that residents can use in many situations and are cost-effective.

She said that municipalities, the county included, have caused very few issues with sea cans.

"When they are used as building material, and as long as construction is complete, they meet the end-use requirements for that type of building," Dauphinee said. "We are running into problems when they are brought onto a property and then used to construct a structure they were not intended for."

She said some recent examples include a resident who wanted to "dig a hole at the lake and use it for an underground cold storage shed" and another who tried to use one "as is" for a kennel.

"We've had situations where people want to bring them in and stack them because they've had a neighbour dispute and don't want to look at them," Dauphinee said.

Vrbo, Airbnbs and other temporary tourist accommodations

Not all the comments were negative. Lac La Nonne resident Derek Young said he and his wife welcomed the controls the county added in the LUB to govern short-term rental accommodations.

He said he and his wife have lived in the Duncan Road neighbourhood for the last 18 years when they retired.

"We have a problem with the Vrbo. For the last two years, it has been very noisy, almost every day, for three months, June, July and August, due to [Vrbo renters]," he said. "Why is a [10-person] Vrbo hotel in our neighbourhood? It is a family neighbourhood, not a business."

Bruns said the temporary recreation regulations were added in response to several similar complaints the municipality has received.

"Our approach was to draft some restrictions into the [Airbnb section], to give us some guidance and make them permittable so we can start to work with the owners about expectations through policies and bylaws and get some control," she said, adding the new regulations only apply to Airbnb and Vrbo accommodations, not bed and breakfasts.

Dauphinee said instituting the regulations was challenging because the short-term rental industry is relatively new.

"Communities across Canada have been grappling with these differently," she said. "In Alberta, the more common approach is to deal with it through business licences; the other is to incorporate provisions in the land-use bylaw," she said.

Barry Kerton,

Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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