Lizard Creek ‘leapfrog’ development nears approval
By Ian Cobb/e-KNOW
Despite plenty of opposition from the public and against recommendations from planning staff, the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) board of directors August 4 approved the third readings of a property rezoning and Elk Valley Official Community Plan (OCP) amendment, which will allow for an eight-lot subdivision on a strip of property located off Highway 3, and adjacent in part to Lizard Creek and Fernie Alpine Resort.
Prior to voting on Bylaws No. 2738 and 2739, RDEK Board Chair Rob Gay addressed “alleged conflict of interest” cries from some members of the public regarding Electoral A Director Mike Sosnowski and this matter.
A legal opinion was obtained and “the director is not in conflict of interest,” Gay told fellow board members and media.
Allowed to stay in the meeting, Sosnowski proceeded to speak to Bylaw No. 2738, an Elk Valley Official Community Plan amendment, which will allow for the designation of the property to change to ‘small holdings’ from ‘large holdings’ and to Bylaw No. 2739, which allows for the rezoning of the properties to RR-1, Rural Residential (Estate) Zone from RR-2, Rural Residential (Small Holdings) Zone and RR-8, Rural Residential (Country) Zone.
He noted that for such a well-attended public hearing with passions on high “it was for sure the best behaved I’ve chaired in all my time on the board.”
With that he noted the area around the subject properties have been built up for some time, with Fernie Alpine Resort on one side and the Cedars development is zoned for 140 single family and 120 multi-family dwellings, with nearby Island Lake Lodge also zoned for 260 units.
There is 50 km of mountain biking trails in the watershed, which he has worked and lived in.
The number of people in the watershed “is in the thousands on a given day,” Sosnowski said. “It’s unbelievable how many people are in this area and wildlife has become “scarce. It’s too late to think of this watershed as a Mecca for wildlife, regrettably.”
He pointed out the effectiveness of Wildsight’s campaign against the development and rezoning, noting a form email campaign and social media attacks.
The environment advocacy group will get more money from “US donors. It was a stunt and it worked. All of this outcry for an eight lot subdivision.”
Sosnowski said wildlife began leaving the watershed 15 years ago when “the people moved in. It is a front country recreation place now. I know this is not the most popular view but it is correct.”
Electoral Area B Director Stan Doehl agreed with Sosnowski about the state of the watershed.
Noting he visited a couple of weeks ago, he told the board, “I was appalled. There are trails everywhere. It has ruined that valley from top to bottom. The damage has been done. Wildsight should look in their own backyard, first.
That said, Doehl said he would not vote in support because he believes there is no room for more development.
District of Elkford Mayor and board director Dean McKerracher enquired if geotechnical work has been done on the subject properties.
Sosnowski said it will be done but the proponent wished to wait for board direction before spending the money on that work.
McKerracher said he believes the hillside could be unsafe and needs to see a geotechnical study before he could support it.
Electoral Area G Director Gerry Wilkie said he would vote against the bylaws “simply because I am agreeing with the planning principles outlined in the staff report.”
District of Invermere Mayor Gerry Taft pointed out “these contentious land use issues are very difficult.” Such proposals can become “the hill that you are going to die on. I don’t think nine (sic) lots in this area is going to fundamentally change anything, destroy the area or make the sky fall.”
The board voted to approve Bylaws 2738 and 2739, with directors Doehl, McKerracher, Wilkie, Electoral Area F Director Wendy Booth and Village of Canal Flats Mayor Ute Juras voting in opposition.
The board also agreed to Development Agreement Covenant (0819038 BC Ltd. & Knauf) for the properties located at 2473 and 2485 Lizard Creek Road, located west of Fernie.
“Registration of a development agreement will provide assurance that the owners will follow through on their development commitments,” noted RDEK planning technician Tracy Van de Wiel in a May 30 request for decision report.
Directors McKerracher and Doehl voted against it.
The board vote also went against a staff recommendation to not proceed regarding the bylaw amendment application.
“The subject properties are not within an identified development node and the proposal is not consistent with Elk Valley OCP policies, specifically the Lizard Creek subarea policies. It is an example of leapfrog development which leads to difficulty with future servicing and infrastructure needs as densification continues and the city grows. Development of the subject land as proposed may preclude one possible option for the location of a proposed urban collector road. This future road is intended to connect the City of Fernie to Fernie Alpine Resort,” the April 21 RDEK staff report stated.
It further pointed out that there are “numerous properties already zoned for residential subdivision within both the RDEK and the city.”
A public hearing was held May 24 at the Fernie Family Centre, with 70 people in attendance. A dozen people addressed the board, with 11 noting opposition and one in favour.
Concerns heard during the hearing included: impacts to a wildlife corridor; veering away from the goals of the OCP; impacts to water, Lizard Creek and Elk River; noise; need to maintain current parcel sizes; and the slope of the land could lead to sloughing.
Stella Swanson, an aquatic biologist who lives along Highway 3, said the development proposal “is a death by a thousand cuts” and it would impact water as she doesn’t believe the land has the capability to handle sewage.
The speaker in favour of the rezoning noted good work has been done at the Nordic Centre and there is a need for more affordable housing.
The RDEK received a host of emails and letters noting opposition and a large number of letters in support.
Most of the emails in opposition, Sosnowski pointed out August 4, were the product of a Wildsight campaign opposing the development.
Wildsight Elk Valley representative Ryland Nelson said an email opposing the development was sent to members and those members may have forwarded it onto other people. The results showed that 216 Fernie residents responded with 214 opposed and two in favour, along with 82 from Electoral Area A that were in opposition, in addition to 70 letters in opposition from elsewhere in B.C., 27 from Alberta and nine from “elsewhere.”
Lead image: The subject property, located between the arrow points. Image from Haworth Development Consulting proponent report