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Woodlands delays creating new enforcement appeal committee

Councillors decide to wait until all of council is available to give proposed bylaw final reading
Dallas Choma jan 18 copy
Lac Ste. Anne County enforcement supervisor and CPO Dallas Choma (pictured here at a County of Barrhead council meeting in January) recommended that Woodlands County create to help streamline the process of dealing with enforcement order appeals.

BARRHEAD – Woodlands County residents who wish to appeal an enforcement order may soon have to plead their case to a new ad hoc committee. 

On June 22, county councillors gave first and second readings to Bylaw 590/22 (Enforcement Review Committee), but the bylaw stalled after the vote to forward the bylaw for final reading was not unanimous. 

Whitecourt East Coun. Jeremy Wilhelm noted he believed before passing a bylaw that all councillors should have an opportunity to give their opinion and reeve John Burrows was absent.  

Wilhelm also said he would like time to ask Lac Ste. Anne County councillors for their opinion, as they have already enacted a similar bylaw. The bylaw will next come before the council's consideration for the third reading on July 20. 

Development manager Joan Slootweg said the bylaw enables county development staff and community peace officers to issue enforcement orders such as stop-work or clean-up under the county's Land-use Bylaw, the Municipal Government Act (MGA) and Community Standards Bylaw. 

She added that if the county does issue an enforcement order under the MGA's Bylaw Contraventions or Remedy Dangers and Unsightly Property sections, the resident has the right to appeal. 

Slootweg noted the county's past practice is to bring any appeals to the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board (SDAB). 

The SDAB is a quasi-judicial board whose purpose is to hear appeals from residents that could be potentially adversely impacted by a decision of the development authority. 

However, after conversations with Lac Ste. Anne County enforcement supervisor and CPO Dallas Choma, administration is recommending the creation of a three-councillor ad-hoc committee to hear those appeals. 

Woodlands County contracts Lac Ste. Anne County to provide its bylaw enforcement and community peace officer services. 

"It just keeps it cleaner for the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board," she said.  

Slootweg added there is the potential that the SDAB could potentially hear two appeals for one property, one about the development itself and one for an enforcement order, potentially biasing the board. 

Choma said another reason he recommends creating the councillor-led committee for enforcement order reviews is cost. 

He noted SDAB members receive specialized training and often do not reside in the community they are adjudicating on. 

"It cost a lot of money to bring these people in to have these hearings," Choma said. "With the number of unsightly properties and dangerous properties, it becomes expensive to have them come in, especially when all they can do is extend an order as they can't cancel the order." 

In addition to being more cost-effective, he added residents would have their appeals heard sooner. 

Whitecourt East Coun. Jeremy Wilhelm asked how often the Lac Ste. Anne's committee has been called upon to hear an appeal. 

The standard practice, Choma said, is that a resident is given 30 days to comply (in a case such as an unsightly property clean-up) with an enforcement order. After the order is issued, the resident has 14 days to file an appeal, after which a hearing date is scheduled. 

"We actually use (the committee) quite a bit," he said, adding the majority of appeals deal with unsightly properties.  

Choma said since Lac Ste. Anne has taken over community peace officer duties in Woodlands County (late 2019), they have had to issue relatively few enforcement orders. 

"We did do an unsightly property order in Blue Ridge, but as of yet, they haven't appealed it," he said, adding he expects the resident will appeal the decision soon.  

Goose Lake/Freeman River Coun. Peter Kuelken asked if the proposed committee would streamline the work for county development officers. 

Slootweg suspected it would, noting there is a lot of work for staff and information to prepare for an SDAB review, and the county usually uses the services of legal counsel who sits with the board. 

“It would be a matter of calling three councillors to review the order, and it would be a yes or no answer," she said. 

Kuelken then asked if the councillors sitting on the committee would need additional training. 

Choma replied the training would be relatively simple, noting their duties as community peace officers regarding unsightly or dangerous properties are well-defined under the MGA. 

"You would have a file complete with pictures, and then you would get the story of why the ratepayer thinks they don't have to comply with our bylaws. It would be a straightforward process for the committee," he said. "The only thing, order-wise, would be to extend the timeline if you think the timeline that my team set is unreasonable or reissue an order if you believe a mistake made." 

Whitecourt Central Coun. Alan Deane asked if there was any advantage to sticking with the SDAB board, such as having the legal counsel present, as Slootweg previously mentioned. 

Choma did not believe so, saying in his opinion, legal counsel at the committee level wasn't warranted. 

"Legal isn't needed at that point in the appeal because the SDAB can only overturn or extend the order, or in the case of a mistake reissue the order. In terms of enforcement, they can't say yea or nay, so the county would only be spending money that's not needed at that stage," he said. 

Choma added it is after the timeline for the resident to complete the action has lapsed. 

"It is at this point, for any major project, tear down or clean up, that the county would bring in legal counsel when they seek a court order," he said, adding the average court order costs between $1,500 and $1,700. 

 



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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