There is an old saying in the country, “Good fences make good neighbours.” Today, with the greater variety of activities and reasons for living in rural areas, more than fences are needed to make good neighbours; it requires a system of Land Use Bylaws, Development Requirements and Safety Regulations, all of which are based upon compatibility of land use and come out of people's concerns. On the one hand, the system prevents someone who doesn't understand or care from acting upon a poor decision. On the other hand, the process provides a recognized standard which facilitates selling and buying and obtaining mortgages.
Area structure plans and rezoning proposals have to be approved by both the local municipality and the regional planning agency. Factors which must be considered in relation to the rezoning and approval for area structure plans include making sure that the road system can handle the increased use from the development, the management of storm water, the availability of a sufficient water supply, the actual layout, and that it is compatible and acceptable to existing adjacent land use and residents.
Development Permits under the Land Use Bylaw are the first step required for all buildings: residential (including the residence on a farm), commercial, industrial, and recreational. The rule of thumb for a shed small enough to not require a permit is 100 square feet. A patio is less then two feet in height; a deck over two feet requires railings. Decks require the same setbacks as buildings for privacy. Development Permits are given by municipalities when the land use is correct for the zone, and the location on the site is appropriate. Therefore, Development Permit applications require the inclusion of the proposed site plan, including distances from property lines and the location of any existing buildings. Conditions to consider when building a house include where utility lines are located, and what levies or fees, such as off-site sewer levies, may apply.
The second step is to contact a Safety Code Agency accredited by Alberta Municipal Affairs to obtain Building Permits, Electrical Permits, Gas Permits, and Plumbing Permits. There are six accredited agencies which work province wide, four of which can provide all four safety permits, and three of those four which work out of Edmonton as well as further locations.
Should the builder want to get a mortgage or ever sell to someone needing a mortgage, this process is important because banks want to know that the building has been done according to zoning bylaws and safety standards.
The COUNTY OF WETASKIWIN has four workers in its Planning and Development Department: Director David Blades, a development officer and two assistants / secretaries. They urge people to call with any questions or inquiries regarding zoning or land use or help with permits, and they give out the permit packages. The first step in building is to apply for the Development Permit to make sure that your plan is correct for the land use zone and is appropriately located on the site. This takes about two weeks from submission of the application to granting of permission, although it may take a little longer during the summer or when the economy is busy. Their attitude is one of always being available to give advice or guidance, including advice in moving on to the second step of contacting a Safety Code Agency.
The Department is dedicated to public consultation, to public hearings where adjacent landowners may voice their opinions about any development, whether they support it or not. They hold hearings regarding Area Structure Plans and about Zoning changes. The Pigeon Lake Concept Plan was developed in cooperation with a local focus group. Their emphasis is on compatibility of land use and developing regulations which come out of people's concerns. Their experience is that this County is a good municipality in which to work, that the people are good and easy going and want to do the right thing when they know the standards and regulations.
Area Structure Plans and changes in zoning must be approved by the West Central Planning Agency after the County Planning and Development Department has given its approval.
Within the County of Wetaskiwin, there are several different Land Use Districts. The one that applies close to lakes, Lakeshore Residential, has special conditions restricting land use and limiting cutting of trees to not more than 40 per cent of the tree cover or natural vegetation in order to help protect the water shed. In addition, natural vegetation must be left uncut for at least six meters from the water's edge, and an access to the water cut through this vegetation must not be more than three meters wide. Special conditions also apply to sewage.
The County of Wetaskiwin Planning and Development Department is concerned that it be a catalyst for good neighbours and good neighbourhoods through keeping land use compatible and developing regulations that respond to people's concerns. It is prepared to listen and eager to help. It is to be commended.