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MD of Bighorn examining ways to increase public notification of permits

“I think looking at a larger longer time gives advantages to people who are away."
MD of Bighorn building winter 4
The MD of Bighorn administration building in Exshaw. RMO FILE PHOTO

MD OF BIGHORN – How MD of Bighorn residents are notified of development permits could be changing.

Bighorn’s governance and priorities committee provided additional direction for municipal staff that could see the radius of notification for landowners expanded, adding digital means for notifying permitting approvals and increasing the amount of time people have to submit feedback.

“These will give administration more clarity on expectations for notification,” said Jenny Kasprowicz, Bighorn’s senior municipal planner.

Municipal staff also proposed publishing notifications for all discretionary use and permitted use with a variance since they have the option of being appealed.

It noted permitted uses would also be posted, but if there’s no variance to them they can’t be appealed.

A staff report noted the intent would be to post on Bighorn’s website and social media platforms, newspapers, adjacent landowners in specific radiuses and potentially other means such as signage.

Bighorn’s land use bylaw requires 15 days for notifications, but the committee expressed potentially increasing the timeline to give people more chances to provide feedback.

“I think looking at a larger longer time gives advantages to people who are away,” said Coun. Alice James, representing Ward 3 at the eastern edge of Bighorn and near the Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation.

“Fifteen days is a two-week holiday and that’s providing you pay attention the day before you leave or the day after you leave. A two-week holiday is not an uncommon thing.”

Coun. Rick Tuza of Ward 4 in Benchlands added a neighbour was preparing to go on vacation for six weeks and was concerned about a development. Though, written submissions can be made, noted municipal staff.

The radius of notification will return for an eventual council decision – with the staff report suggesting 50 metres – but Kasprowicz noted each hamlet will likely have to have its own radius “because each hamlet has different sized lots.”

Coun. Steve Fitzmorris, who represents Ward 1 of Exshaw, Kananaskis and Seebe settlements, said he prefers having something posted at the site in question since people in the area may be more likely to see it.

“Personally, I like the idea of having something posted on site because not all people will get a notification," Fitzmorris said. "If it concerns me, I look more into it. If it doesn’t, I walk away. I have found these types of things in other communities and I find them to be quite informative. It lets me know what’s going on without having to be contacted directly by the MD.”

James added it also allows renters to see it since they’re typically not notified.

Under provincial legislation, municipalities are required to give notice for development permits and public hearings. It allows residents to attend public hearings or appeal approved permits.

In 2017, the provincial NDP government amended the Municipal Government Act to allow municipalities to use digital means to start the clock on possibly appealing development decisions.

“This attempts to offer more transparency and streamline the approvals process to allow the 21-day appeal period to begin once the notice of decision for these types of permits are posted to the MD of Bighorn’s website, instead of waiting an additional week for the notice to appear in the local newspaper(s),” according to the staff report.

The report noted municipalities across the province vary from newspaper advertising, digital posting on municipal websites, sending mail to landowners, signage at a location or a combination of some or all options.

In 2019, Rocky View County elected to add the digital option and within six months pulled its newspaper advertising. Some print advertising, however, came back after residents complained of not receiving information.

St. Albert and Banff councils elected to continue newspaper advertising in the last 18 months.

In the 2021 Court of Queen's Bench ruling Neilson vs. County of Leduc, Justice Thomas Rothwell ruled that the bylaw is "permissive" and "a municipality may pass a bylaw authorizing other methods of advertising," but is not required.

"A municipality should not be discouraged from providing notice through a variety of means or mediums for fear that it would vitiate a statutorily authorized method," stated Rothwell's legal ruling on Section 606 of the MGA.

The discussion originally arose when Bighorn council was debating – and eventually passed – its land use bylaw omnibus last January. During the council discussion, questions about notifications for development permits were brought up.

“For context, discussions with council during the land use bylaw amendment process … brought up an enquiry of administration regarding the adjacent landowner notification process,” stated a staff report.

“As such, administration has brought forward proposed amendments to select provisions … to extend the notification radius from only adjacent landowners to those likely to be affected by the proposed use and/or development at the discretion of the development officer.

Kasprowicz said a major reason for examining the potential change is with Bighorn’s Municipal Planning Commission meeting the last Wednesday of each month, which leads to another week of waiting to post in various newspapers near the MD.

She noted the municipality will put notifications in the Rocky Mountain Outlook, Cochrane Eagle and Mountain View Gazette – which is part of The Albertan – and are all owned by Great West Media.

She said the intent was to continue advertising in the newspapers, but the development officer associated with the specific development permit could select the newspaper most relevant to individual permits.

“What we are doing is adding to that, so the 21-day appeal period would start from the posting on our municipal website instead of adding a fourth week because of the deadlines for the newspaper the advertisement … This is an attempt to streamline the process and provide the 21 days and not 28 days of appeal,” Kasprowicz said.

She added they had looked at having a specific Bighorn advertising page in the Cochrane Eagle and Rocky Mountain Outlook.

“This is where, potentially, we could have our standard notices, public hearings, other departments, general MD news weekly,” said Kasprowicz.

Hayley Gavin, Bighorn’s director of planning and development services, noted departments meet each week and they discuss upcoming and approved development permits.

“We do talk about some of the nuances that exist and who should be notified and who shouldn’t even though that is not specifically written in the bylaw now, so this is kind of a practice we’re already doing,” she said.

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