By Trevor Busch
A critical planning tool for development within a community, the Town of Taber is reviewing a new Land-Use Bylaw governing the use and evolution of all land and buildings in the municipality.
At their April 11 regular meeting, town council voted unanimously to pass first reading of Land-Use Bylaw 6-2016, and set a date for an open house for May 25, and to hold a public hearing on June 13, 2016.
“We’ve included some graphics in this plan,” said planning director Cory Armfelt. “Every day, we have to explain to people what setbacks are, what lot widths are, what lot coverages are — the most fundamental things that we deal with on a day-to-day basis when we’re evaluating permits, we’ve actually put into this plan as pictures that explain to people, right in the document itself, what we’re looking for.”
In 2015, Brown and Associates was hired to create a new Land-Use Bylaw for the Town of Taber. A draft of the new bylaw has been completed, and administration has done a thorough review of the draft in comparison with the existing Land-Use Bylaw 4-2006.
“We’ve decreased the number of zones, or districts,” continued Armfelt. “We’ve gone from around nine residential districts, down to four. And industrial, we’ve gone to three from five. So we’ve simplified things, but allowing us enough rules to regulate the land.”
Changes in draft Land-Use Bylaw 6-2016 include condensing the number of land use districts, creating new permitting procedures for temporary signs, creating an easier process for office only home occupations, reducing the setback requirements for accessory uses including sheds, and eliminating the requirement of a development permit for temporary swimming pools.
“Swimming pools are always a little bit of a challenge,” said Armfelt. “In the summertime, you go to Wal-Mart, buy a swimming pool, and set it up in your backyard. In the past, we were having to issue development permits for those above-ground, Wal-Mart style swimming pools. According to the building code, they still actually need to have a building permit and be inside a fenced enclosure, but it’s not something that the town would profit from, so with that type of pool I don’t actually have to issue you a development permit.”
Local stakeholder organizations such as Taber and District Community Adult Learning Association, school authorities, Municipal District of Taber, and all internal departments will be notified of the open house and public hearing. Land-Use Bylaw 6-2016 has been reviewed by the Municipal Planning Commission, and approval was recommended on Feb. 16, 2016.
“We’ve made the process a little bit less cumbersome for a home office or home occupation, if you’re not going to have any traffic coming to your house,” said Armfelt. “That’s streamlined a little bit, and increasing the variance hours of the Municipal Planning Commission.”
Often a source of setback violations in the municipality, individuals with sheds located too close to their property lines are — literally — being given a little more breathing room, being reduced from 1.2 metres currently, to 0.6 metres.
“Which is compliant with the Alberta Building Code,” said Armfelt. “We’re constantly having headaches with compliance letters, because everybody puts their shed a couple of feet from the property line. Nobody puts it four feet from the property line.”
Sec. 639 of the Municipal Government Act states that every municipality must pass a land-use bylaw. The Land-Use Bylaw 6-2016 project was budgeted $80,000 in 2015.
The current land-use bylaw was adopted in 2006. According to administration, there have been many changes in development since that time, and draft Land-Use Bylaw 6-2016 was created with this in mind to provide regulations which better reflect the development needs of the community.
Also subject to change in the new bylaw will be removing permitted use for new developments in the downtown area and replacing it with discretionary use, allowing administration the ability to challenge developments that might not meet aesthetic or other standards determined by the town.
“In the event that somebody wanted to build a building downtown that we didn’t agree looked appropriate for the downtown core, we would have the ability now to (dispute it),” said Armfelt. “If there was any sort of controversy at all, we would bring it before the Municipal Planning Commission, to allow the Municipal Planning Commission evaluate the merits of it. Being that right now buildings in the downtown core are permitted uses, if someone comes to apply to build a building in the downtown core, we’re obligated to approve it, no matter what it looks like. So this would give us a bit more power to evaluate the actual architectural blueprints, and not be obligated to approve anything.”
While objecting to employment of the term “arbitrary,” Armfelt did admit changing development in the downtown area to a discretionary use would allow the town to refuse developments that do not meet their own standards of acceptability.
“That’s not arbitrary at all. In fact, what we’ve done with that is changed that process, so that if somebody comes to apply for a building, we have the opportunity to actually refuse if the town doesn’t feel that the building being proposed for the downtown, is suitable for the downtown area — the municipality gets the opportunity to say no, we do not want that building in the downtown. Right now, the Town of Taber doesn’t have that opportunity because all buildings in the downtown are permitted uses. So we’re changing that to discretionary use so the town can actually send development back to the drawing board if there’s something proposed that the town doesn’t like.”
Checks and balances will be in place, according to Armfelt, that will prevent the town’s planning department from arbitrarily refusing future development in the downtown area based on aesthetics or other considerations.
“I would never do that. Out of my own career preservation I would always bring it to the Municipal Planning Commission for their collective wisdom,” said Armfelt.