The Wetaskiwin County Council chambers were invaded on May 1st by a delegation of more than 143 individuals protesting the supposed enforcement of the three decades old zoning bylaw which does not accept RVs or Park Model Trailers as permitted residences in areas zoned residential. The situation was an example of how misunderstanding, rumours and false assumptions can be used to arouse needless anger and manipulate normally reasonable people. Let's look at the whole historic context.
1976: The County of Wetaskiwin developed the zoning and land use bylaw.
1995: “Land Use Bylaw 95/54 was approved by County Council after extensive public consultation and a public hearing.” This was a fine tuning of the 1976 bylaw. Residential land use districts list permitted or discretionary use with cabins, manufactured homes or standard constructed stick built dwellings for residences. Because RVs are not included in the list, they are not allowed to be used as residences in residential land use districts. They may be used in Recreational and Recreational Resort Holdings districts.
2008 and following: The international economic down turn was evident in slower land sales and more owners wanting to use RVs as residences.
2010: County Council observed two things:
During the County Tour, they noted an increase in the unauthorized use of RVs, especially in several of the newer subdivisions around Buck Lake.
They saw realtors outside of the County advertising residential lots for RV use in subdivisions that do not allow for RVs to be used in place of single family dwellings.
At the 2010 Strategic Planning Meetings, one enforcement strategy was to “Educate Realtors regarding Municipal Reserve and Environmental Reserve uses and development regulations.”
2011: The Subdivision and Development Appeal Board asked the County what steps it would take to prevent instances of unauthorized use of Recreational Vehicles as Residences from appearing before the Board at an increased rate. The County informed the board of its strategy to educate realtors, a process by which “Council hopes to reduce the number of parcels sold under false assumptions regarding the allowed uses including lakefront properties where Environmental and Municipal Reserves exist.”
The Council also “re-affirmed the existing provisions of the Land Use Bylaw concerning the use of Recreational Vehicles in residential areas.”
2012: At the end of February, the County, in an effort to educate, sent a comprehensive information letter to realtors within and outside the County. Besides addressing the County Land Use Bylaw 95/54, it noted that RVs and Park Model Trailers do not meet the basic criteria for use as a residential dwelling under the Alberta Safety Codes Act as they do not meet minimum requirements of construction under Part Nine of the Building Code, nor can they be brought up to this standard. Manufacturers of these units agree with this assessment and add that use of RVs and Park Models as residences may void warranties. The letter was well written, clear and covered the various aspects of the situation well. This letter made no mention of enforcement. It was written with the intent of giving realtors the information they needed to follow the common principle to disclose to potential buyers the residential use allowed on a residential property.
Some of the realtors took exception to this letter and misunderstood, misinterpreted, made assumptions or spread rumours as to its contents and intent—hence the huge, angry delegation. One of the realtors e-mailed this paper with the view that the County was enforcing new and unacceptable regulations. They then forwarded a copy of a letter they had sent out, but sent it shrunk so small that it was almost unreadable because of blurring even when enlarged. A request was made to have it resent in a legible format, which was promised but never sent. Is that because they did not want us to see the exaggerations and incorrect statements in the letter? They wrote, “They don't want you to have RV guests even for a weekend, and you can't allow a guest or family member to stay in your RV even for a night.” That piece of pure fiction certainly achieved its purpose of getting people riled up! The last paragraph reads, “Be aware that enforcement started in Division 7. They started in Alder Flats, are currently working in Buck Lake, intend to move on to Winfield, then Pigeon Lake and so forth. Let's stop them in their tracks!”
I wonder if they are confusing the enforcement of Land Use Bylaw 95/54 with the assessment of the whole county which was begun at the west end and is tracked in the County ads, or if they are referring to a particular case of enforcement of Land Use Bylaw 95/54 which has occurred in Alder Flats during the past two years? The Alder Flats situation began when the 2010 Council Tour observed a large new motor home connected to utilities on a lot. When it was allowed to stay, an old converted school bus was soon established on a nearby lot. Neighbours complained and the bylaw was enforced. I understand that houses have now been built on both lots.
The County recognizes that the original Land Use Bylaw was approved in 1976 with no enforcement and no will to enforce. Historically, the County has enforced this bylaw when complaints have brought situations to its attention. The letter made no mention of enforcement. Its intent was to facilitate the common principle that realtors would disclose to potential buyers the residential use allowed on residential zoned property, thus reducing the number of new violations of the bylaw.
It should be noted that it is the developer of the land who chooses and applies for the zoning for the intended use of their development. Also, the County has no involvement with any restrictive covenants put in place by the original developers of a subdivision other than the bylaw taking precedence over such covenants.
The Wetaskiwin County Council will now seek expert legal advice and consider all options. It wants to know the views of all stakeholders, including those who have built beautiful houses, and wants to find the solution which is right for the County of Wetaskiwin. The COUNTY will hold an OPEN HOUSE in the BUCK LAKE COMMUNITY CENTRE on WEDNESDAY, JUNE 27th.