By Trevor Busch
Critical comments made recently by fellow council regarding two M.D. of Taber projects located within the intermunicipal development zone has drawn the concern of Mayor Henk DeVlieger.
Speaking at the Feb. 8 meeting, the comments referred to by Mayor DeVlieger were made at town council’s Jan. 25 meeting (which was not attended by DeVlieger) and expressed council’s concerns about the M.D.’s potential development of a septic field for Johnson’s Addition, as well as the creation of a new maintenance shop site to be located on Highway 3.
These comments were subsequently reported in an article in the Feb. 3 edition of The Taber Times, “Septic field development draws town council concerns”.
“Unfortunately I could not be present at the last council meeting on January 25. I’m making these comments after reading The Taber Times minutes and town council minutes,” said DeVlieger.
“To start off, it seems like we live in a society where everything has to be opposed, ideas have to be ripped apart, and if we don’t watch we can fall in that same trap. We’re living in a society where we’re becoming self-destructive by opposing things instead of working together for the betterment of all involved. A good example would be oil pipelines; no matter what they present, it’s no good.”
The M.D. of Taber recently notified the town of their acquisition of two properties for future municipal projects, which includes a 13-acre parcel near Johnson’s Addition west of Taber, which is intended to be used to develop an onsite communal septic system servicing Johnson’s Addition residents.
“The main focus of my election campaign was for positive change and progress, that can only be accomplished by being positive. Negativity is like being self-destructive. I believe in partnerships and working together. I have done this in business and in volunteer organizations most of my life, and am still doing it. I know from experience it works, and has been very successful. There is a saying, ‘together, united, we’re stronger’,” said DeVlieger.
In 2015, the town received notice of a public hearing to rezone land adjacent to the 13 acre parcel, from Rural Agricultural to Group Country Residential.
At a meeting held on July 6, 2015 between the town and M.D. of Taber, it was indicated the adjacent land may be developed into a group septic field.
In a letter later submitted to the M.D. of Taber, the town requested the opportunity to comment on such development as early as possible during the conceptualization process due to potential odour concerns.
“I was very disappointed at what happened at the last council meeting,” said DeVlieger. “What is there to gain by opposing progress? All it does is create a wedge in an already fragile relationship we have with the M.D. I know the M.D has done it to us on several occasions, like the compost project, but that doesn’t mean that we have to lower ourselves to that level.”
A second 40-acre parcel of property (currently part of a larger 64-acre parcel undergoing subdivision) located between Taber and Barnwell that the M.D. of Taber has entered into a purchase agreement regarding, was also a source of some criticism by town council on Jan. 25 regarding location and potential traffic concerns.
“The campus, sure there is an intermunicipal development plan, but by reading The Taber Times about the discussion that took place in council, I have some serious concerns about how far we should be involved in the M.D’s plans and affairs,” said DeVlieger. “I think the municipal plan is meant for larger and more complex situations. I think the M.D. should have the freedom to pick their own location in their own municipality. I agree with some of the comments that Coun. Sparks made about this.”
The property is intented to be used for future public and institutional use, such as construction of an anticipated municipal maintenance and operations building. Upon completion of the new facilities, it is the intent of the M.D. of Taber to sell the 10-acre parcel located inside Town of Taber municipal boundaries that houses the existing facilities.
“I’m absolutely sure that the M.D. have their plans well thought out, and did all the necessary research and homework, and looked at all the angles of this project,” continued DeVlieger, who appeared to be reading from a prepared statement. “I personally do not need to see the plan, and as far as highway access is concerned, I assume they will discuss this with the highways department, which is in control of the highway, and they’re capable of addressing those kinds of concerns themselves. Council comments made in the paper about this development for sure will not help improving our relationship with the M.D. My suggestion is to endorse their development and wish them success with it. Personally, I thought they would pick a different side in a more central location, on Highway 36 going north — but again, they need to do what’s best for them.”
The 40-acre parcel is currently zoned Rural Agricultural, and a public/institutional use is considered discretionary. Under Sec. 4.1 of the town and M.D. of Taber’s Intermunicipal Development Plan, developments on large parcels of vacant land are subject to an Area Structure Plan or design scheme, which could be requested for review by the town.
Sec. 4.2 of the Intermunicipal Development Plan requires the M.D. of Taber to forward any subdivision or development applications located in the Intermunicipal Development Plan area to the Town of Taber to allow the town to provide comment.
“The septic field location, again after reading The Taber Times and seeing the comments — this is my personal opinion — I think it’s none of our business to get involved, especially in the government of the regulated society we live in,” said DeVlieger. “This project, the septic field, has to follow all of Alberta Environment’s rules and regulations, and we as a town know how strange they are. I’ve been in communities that have these kinds of fields, and odours are not a problem. They’re also monitored and tested in a regular basis to ensure they stay within the regulations. There is also a substantial distance between this field and our residential areas, which should make that one of our least concerns.”
At their Jan. 25 meeting, town council voted unanimously (6-0) to direct administration to submit a letter to the M.D. of Taber that the town is against the establishment of a septic field (subdivision application Lot 1, Block 1, Plan 0111733) on 13 acres that have been subdivided for that purpose. Mayor Henk DeVlieger was absent from the meeting.
In a follow-up motion at that same meeting, town council voted unanimously (6-0) to resolve that it cannot support the development permit for a proposed development (on a portion of NE 26-9-17-W4M) without a site development plan.
“It’s not up to us to get involved in issues like ‘being the ideal solution’, adequacy of the system for future expansion, oversaturation, and other drainage problems. These are issues that have to be worked out by the M.D. with the residents of Johnson’s Addition. It is in their jurisdiction. Their residents have to live with this system on a daily basis, and again, there are a lot of safeguards built in by Alberta Environment. These kinds of discussions are not beneficial for creating a better relationship, especially when they get published in the newspaper. All it does is create division,” said DeVlieger.
In 2016, DeVlieger is hoping to repair a relationship which became strained throughout 2015, and asserted comments of the nature made by some members of town council on Jan. 25 would not be productive in reaching this goal.
“As mentioned in The Taber Times, in my New Year’s wish, I was hoping that we can create a better working relationship with the M.D. in 2016. In my election platform, I promised to work on improving the relationship with surrounding municipalities and utilizing mutual strengths in creating efficiencies. My suggestion is to wish the M.D. well with these projects, and that we trust that these projects are done in a professional manner. I hope we can expect the same from the M.D. in our projects that we do.”
Considering the prevailing economic situation, DeVlieger noted contributing to the detrioration of a relationship with our neighbouring municipality will be counter-productive for both as they struggle to meet the needs of their respective constituents.
“We’re living in a time where we will need each other, as municipalities, more and more to keep our standards of living affordable. In that regard, I did not appreciate the comment from Coun. Bob Wallace regarding the walking trail, which I think was an excellent project to start to work together, and he is quoted, ‘There is no need for all of this cross-collaboration’. I suggest to our council that we should invite our counterpart, the M.D., to sit down and find ways to support each other, and try to collaborate where we can. This will be beneficial to us all. We have seen lots of projects, and we have seen lots of discussions, and I think it’s time that we stop this, work this out, and sit down with the M.D.”
Taking a defensive stance towards his worship’s comments, Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux suggested the mayor misunderstood the “tone” of the discussion that occured on Jan. 25.
“My opinion is you missed the tone of our decision. We’re not opposed, I believe as a council, to this plan at all. It’s strictly up to them. What we were missing was an attachment showing us the site plan. We have no problem with the M.D. moving out of town. We believe that’s where they should be. That wasn’t the issue, it’s just we’d like to see a site plan. We don’t oppose it.”
DeVlieger was unwilling to reconcile comments recorded by The Taber Times and Ross-Giroux’s after-the-fact attempt to massage council’s intent.
“I fully understand. But that’s not the tone I see in the newspaper. And I have to hear it from a lot of people that it looks like we’re lowering ourselves to that same level. I just had to get this off my chest.”
Coun. Randy Sparks pointed out town council did have some legitimate concerns on Jan. 25 regarding either development, some which have yet to be addressed.
“From the meeting, I think those of us here were under the assumption that this development application needed a site plan before it could be passed. That was the assumption that I was under. That’s the only reason that this development was voted down. As for the septic field, the M.D. can do whatever they wish, but in June they were asked for some information about the septic field, and the Town of Taber has never received any, for potential smell and things like that. We need that information because it’s on the west side of town. That’s what we asked for. It’s not that we’re against it.”
Coun. Rick Popadynetz criticised the public nature of DeVlieger’s statement, while reserving some choice words describing his view of the ethics and integrity of the local media establishment.
“As the chair of that meeting, I find it a little bit disappointing that you wouldn’t have contacted all of the councillors prior to giving a statement. Also, I don’t believe everything I read in The Taber Times. They’re limited to space in their articles. You can’t believe everything that’s written.”
DeVlieger remained unswayed by Popadynetz’s criticism.
“I’ll stick to my comments.”