A family of property owners in the County of Wetaskiwin are not happy that they’ve been ordered to remove an unapproved approach, and claim they weren’t treated properly by county staff either.
Lawrence and Marcine Schmidt requested to speak to council directly at the regular Planning and Development meeting Oct. 11 for a number of reasons, one being an order from the county to remove an unapproved approach to their farm yard that the county said was too close to a nearby intersection and dangerous.
Assistant CAO Jeff Chipley presented the item to council. “On July 18, 2018, a Notice was sent to Lawrence and Marcine Schmidt with respect to the construction of an approach into the intersection of Range Road 263 and Township Road 454,” stated Chipley in his agenda memo.
“The Notice outlined that the approach did not have County approval and that it would need to be removed by August 28, 2018. If a new approach was desired by the landowners, the steps involved to receive approval for the approach were included as a part of the letter.
“Due to the unsafe location of the existing approach, County staff would not approve another approach in the same location.” It was stated several times at the meeting the approach was never permitted and poses a safety risk because it’s too close to the intersection.
Marcine did most of the speaking during the Schmidt’s presentation. She said that a county staff member had been driving around and saw a driveway he didn’t like; the county did not talk directly to the Schmidt family about it, but the family instead received a letter in the mail ordering them to remove the approach.
Marcine said she felt the letter was curt and threatening and the Schmidts would have preferred someone talk to them directly about it. “To us the situation is kind of like a bullying and threatening approach,” she said to council.
She also pointed out the letter was not clear about which approach had to be removed. A meeting at the site was held July 26 that included county staff, two community peace officers and an RCMP officer. Marcine said she was not happy with the way at least one county staff member spoke to her family. “We’re the taxpayers, so we’re going to be paying the wages,” said Marcine.
She stated that, as far as safety goes, she felt drivers make the intersection dangerous, not approaches.
Reeve Kathy Rooyakkers asked the Schmidts what they were concerned about. Lawrence responded that the Schmidts could remove the approach, but there are other similar approaches nearby.
Rooyakkers said the approach appeared on aerial maps in 2003. She asked if an application was made by the Schmidts for the approach.
Chipley said he wanted to address concerns voiced by the Schmidts. He said Public Works staff were out working in the Schmidt’s area and saw the approach and realized it was a public safety issue. Chipley said staff don’t usually go onto private property to discuss notices, as staff don’t know if they’re welcome or not. Also, by sending a letter, there’s a record that the concern was addressed.
The letter itself was a standard notice the county uses on a regular basis, and Chipley said he’s never heard complaints about it. He also stated the letter sent to the Schmidts did identify the approach in question, and aerial photos the county has access to show the approach appeared in 2003. Chipley said the land titles were checked to see who the registered owner of the land was when the approach appeared and Chipley said the property was in the Schmidt’s name. Photos also show, stated Chipley, that the approach was improved right up to 2017.
Chipley told council the July 26 meeting with CPOs and RCMP was the result of the county ensuring staff safety at all times. Chipley stated due to previous encounters with the Schmidt family, administration felt the officers were necessary.
Councilor Josh Bishop asked about the previous encounters, but Chipley said he couldn’t comment because that matter is in court right now.
Lawrence mentioned again that other similar approaches exist in the county and that he feels that the Schmidts have been targeted while others aren’t. He also stated the approach in question didn’t show up on aerial photos because it wasn’t used and was grass covered.
Councilor Lyle Seely said this issue is only about safety. “My opinion is the intersection is unsafe,” said Seely. “We’re not targeting anyone.”
Lawrence said the Schmidts will follow the county order. “We will remove the driveway,” said Lawrence.
It was noted during the meeting there is an Oct. 31 deadline to remove it.