About 400 people packed into the Stettler Ag Pavillion for a public hearing into a proposed high density RV resort that, if approved, would see about 1,000 lots built in three phases on 110 acres along Buffalo Lake in Stettler County.
The hearing lasted more than four hours on March 17 to get public input into the proposed park.
Johan van der Bank, Stettler County Director of Planning and Development, summarized the points in 32 letters of support and 121 submissions against.
Twenty people took to the podium to voice their opposition. Some in the crowd carried red “Opposed” signs. Throughout presentations the crowd cheered and applauded those speaking against and jeered the developer, county staff and council. No one spoke in favour.
Stettler County Director of Communications Niki Thorsteinsson, in an interview March 19, acknowledged that the crowd was irate but said public input is critical.
“A public hearing is a very important part of the democratic process. Regardless of the anger it’s important we do it and it will always remain important to engage the public. We were happy to have been there.”
Speakers raised concerns about the size of the development, potential effects on the environment, dangers associated with increased highway, parking lot and boat launch traffic, noise pollution and decreased property values.
Others said the developer is trying to use a loophole in the Buffalo Lake South Shore Intermunicipal Development Plan to say the proposed development isn’t a subdivision, which must comply with stricter regulations than an RV park.
They argued the park’s long-term 35-year lease makes it a subdivision. This means the developer’s annual tax bill would be about $120,000 to $200,000 as opposed to several million dollars.
Speakers said the RV park would add a population about the size of Stettler itself to Buffalo Lake, which raises concerns about traffic and local emergency services.
Others said Stettler County could expose itself to potential lawsuits in the event of accidents or natural disasters if there was inadequate infrastructure or emergency services.
Graham Scott, speaking on behalf of the Village of White Sands residents, said they will be the ones negatively affected the most.
He said the development could increase the lake population on the weekends by four to six times and adequate planning to handle this increase isn’t being done. Instead, he said everything is rushed.
“We see the push for speed when we see things such as no public open houses, just this legislated hearing today. We see lots being marketed before the development application was made to the county.
“We see development occurring before a development permit is in place. The 24-hour work permit (application) is indicative of speed. The developer’s website stating that the resort is now under construction. Studies being of the desktop variety and just now being initiated.”
Justin Stevens, who lives near the development, said he always knew the lake would be developed but wanted to see responsible development and not drastic changes.
Peter Duke, Development Officer for Lacombe County, said his county has concerns about the limited scope of studies provided and the fact that the studies relate only to Phase 1 of the project but the the development application is for all three phases.
Duke said Lacombe County strongly suggests Stettler County consider further study or the rezoning be exclusively for Phase 1 at this time.
Pauline Auld questioned whether either the developer or Stettler County considered the historical and archaeological significance that Buffalo Lake has for Indigenous people.
Hamm said he hadn’t looked into it and Stettler County said the public hearing was advertised.
Attendees also questioned details of the proposal including water and sewer management plan.
One speaker outlined research saying the financial benefits to Stettler and area won’t be what the Stettler business community expects and pointed to the developer’s website, which states the resort would have all the amenities so vacationers won’t have to leave the site to shop.
Others said the developers are hiring firms and contractors from Calgary, Edmonton and Grande Prairie and not many local.
Calgary developer Dave Hamm gave a brief presentation at the public hearing.
The plans include a waterpark, retail store, clubhouse, restaurant, spa, bar, fitness area, marina, tiny cottages, outdoor recreation facilities including a swimming pool and tennis court.
Letters of support
The letters in support of the development said there would be economic spinoffs for Stettler’s economy and it would be a much needed boost to a stagnant economy. More points brought up in favour included that the lots are reasonably priced and the development would allow those would couldn’t afford a beach house along Buffalo Lake an opportunity to also enjoy the area. Other reasons in favour stated in the letters were that it would be an upscale development with people in mid 50s and 60s wanting to go there to relax with their families.
At the conclusion of the public hearing, Stettler County tabled second reading to two bylaws that would pave the way for the development because of objections filed by the Summer villages of White Sands and Rochon Sands.
This delays the project for at least 60 days.