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Sunday, March 1, 2015

MD's proposed Unsightly Premises bylaw discussed at public meeting

Chris Davis

A public meeting was held on the evening of Tuesday, February 24 at the chambers for the council of the MD of Pincher Creek No. 9 to hear input regarding the MD's proposed Unsightly Premises bylaw (Bylaw No. 1258-14). Approximately 25 people attended. The proposed bylaw passed first reading on December 16, 2014 and council at that time decided to bring it to a public meeting before moving forward. The MD's stated purpose of the bylaw is "to prevent the existence and proliferation of unsightly premises and to provide and to regulate, control and abate unsightly premises in the Municipal District of Pincher Creek No. 9".


CAO Wendy Kay welcomed those in attendance and introduced the members of council who were in attendance, including Reeve Brian Hammond, and councillors Terry Yagos, Garry Marchuk, and Fred Schoening. Kay explained that input from the public meeting would be considered when council discussed possible amendments to the proposed bylaw. She then handed the proceeding over to Roland Milligan, the MD's Director of Development and Community Services. Milligan explained that the proposed new bylaw was intended to replace existing bylaw (1071-02) "which was enacted in 2002". "There was some issues with the old bylaw, that doesn't work well today because of things that have happened in the Municipal District," said Milligan. "Now we have a bylaw enforcement officer, a community policing officer who has the ability to enforce our bylaws, and the old bylaw didn't allow for that."

"The previous bylaw was also a complaint-driven bylaw, we had to have that complaint that was directed right to the development officer, so you'd get that 'You need to do something about property x' as a complaint or you'd get a call saying 'how come you haven't done something about this property that's been left like this for years."

Milligan said the new bylaw came in three parts, part one being Interpretations and Definitions, the biggest of which addresses unsightly premises. Part two focuses on General Provisions, and part 3 addresses Enforcement. A handout distributed to those in attendance included the proposed bylaw outlined those three parts and included a final page designed for submitting feedback as to what specific penalties should be implemented.

Defined in the proposed bylaw, among others, were the terms abandoned equipment, abandoned vehicles, animal material, building material, clean up order, municipal tag, owner, premises and property, reasonable state of repair yard material , unsightly premises, and violation ticket.

Milligan said the Unsightly Premises definition "isn't that far different from our previous bylaw".  At another point he said the MD had researched similar bylaws in seven other municipalities before this one was drafted, with attention paid to the penalties imposed for infractions in those municipalities.

General Provisions were laid out as follows in the proposed bylaw:
  • An Owner of Property shall not cause or allow the Property to be an Unsightly Premises.
  • An Owner shall maintain all Property in a Reasonable State of Repair.
  • An Owner of a Property within (a) Hamlet shall not have more that two (2) unregistered vehicles on a parcel of land.
  • In determining whether a premises is an unsightly premises as defined in this bylaw, a Bylaw Enforcement Officer shall have regard to the normal use and location of the Property.
  • Notwithstanding section 4-1, the accumulation of animal material on Property located on agricultural lands shall not constitute an Unsightly Premises under this Bylaw.
"This (public meeting) is just a presentation of this bylaw," said Milligan. "We're here to get your feedback."

Feedback was definitely given by a number of the citizens in attendance. Those who were in principle concerned about or opposed to the proposed bylaw were the most vocal.  One of the biggest aspects of the bylaw that people had a concern with was the restriction on more than two unregistered vehicles on a parcel of land.

One person said he was more concerned with weeds, broken signs, plugged and damaged culverts, garbage blowing from the landfill, and general maintenance in the Hamlets.  "We have to pay to plow our streets because the plow we have is useless."

One citizen said a narrow interpretation of the bylaw might cause trouble for Heritage Acres, due to the amount of "unsightly old machinery" there.  Later he said "Isn't it a matter of perception?  What's fueling this burning desire..."  He also questioned whether the administrative cost of enforcement was worth it.  "We pay your wages".  "Isn't he (the enforcement officer) busy enough with what he's got to do?"

Another citizen was concerned about the limitation on unregistered vehicles on a property, referring to classic cars and vehicles being stored for parts. "Some of us, like myself, have vehicle in my yard to help me get back to work, so I can actually work.  I can't afford to go out and buy a new truck every year."   Later he asked "Is this brought on by someone that moved into one of the hamlets, that are not from here, from the big city, whining a lot, is that what's going on?"  "No, it's not," replied Milligan.

One citizen said he would like to see the number of permitted unregistered/unlicensed vehicles increased provided they were stored in a reasonable manner. Another said he was concerned by "broad brush" legislation that can be turned into whatever" by the bylaw officer.

Milligan said "That's what we're here for... vintage vehicles, collectors vehicles, do they always have to be licensed and registered? Do they have to be kept in a decent state of repair, are they a hazard to the neighbours, is it a fenced yard, are the vehicles accessible to some kid wandering in there, is that a thing you want?"

Another person said he thought if vehicle storage was done in a neat and tidy manner in a "nice concentrated area" it shouldn't be an issue and "I shouldn't have people wandering around on my land".

We're not using this bylaw as 'lets go out gung-ho right now, we've got a bylaw, and clean up the MD'," said Milligan. This is replacing a bylaw that really wasn't working, and there are a couple of properties in the MD that we would like to get cleaned up."

"There are a couple of individuals where we have tried to get properties cleaned up and have not been able to because we don't have the tools in place."

Pincher Station was mentioned by one citizen as a hodge-podge of zoning.

"I've got some complaints," said one citizen. "Within a mile of my place there are three junkyards, and there are people who don't even live in the MD, that live in town and own property out in the MD, and they park their stuff. Personally, I don't care if someone's got a place and he's got his own vehicles on his own place, in his own yard, and he wants to, I don't care. It's his own place. But he shouldn't be able to affect his neighbors more than he affects himself. He shouldn't have 20 sections of land and put all of his garbage up against his neighbour's place as far away from his own residence as he can get."

"There's got to be some regulation."

"You shouldn't put your windmills where they throw shadows on your neighbour and they're so far away from your own residence that you're not affected. That's wrong. You shouldn't be able to put your feedlot west of your place and you never smell it but your neighbour does."

"When it becomes an issue is when you are affecting your neighbours," said CAO Wendy Kay, explaining that the bylaw would be complaint-driven.

Another person said he was worried that a "gung-ho" bylaw officer at some point in the future might enforce the bylaw differently.  Kay said the bylaw officer's direction would come from the MD.  The citizen said he would like to see the bylaw written so that the complaint-driven principle was incorporated in it.  Kay said that would be noted and brought back to council.

Anonymity of complaints was questioned, and CAO Kay explained that the MD didn't have the right to reveal the names of complainants.

"Be a man, don't hide behind some bylaw" said one man, suggesting citizens talk to their neighbours rather than involving enforcement.

"Just how much does this deviate from the bylaw you already have in place," asked one woman.  "Really not a whole heck of a lot," responded Milligan. "The bylaw we had in place did state "upon receiving a complaint", so that would be probably the major difference, that and the addition of the other enforcement options."

"So the reason that this has come to light is you are trying to close some loopholes that... people have come across," the woman replied.  "So basically we all get to stay the same except for the people that you are trying to get to clean up their property." 

"That's what we're hoping," replied Milligan.

In response to another query Milligan also clarified that the bylaw wasn't intended to go after old farm buildings.  "That's a heritage building," he said.  "It adds to the character."

Near the end of the meeting Milligan said the comments made at the public meeting would be brought back to council, perhaps resulting in amendments to the proposed bylaw, prior to second reading.  He invited citizens to visit the MD website at www.mdpinchercreek.ab.ca for information about upcoming council meetings and council meeting minutes, and to submit feedback via email to info@mdpinchercreek.ab.ca, via phone (403-627-3130), via mail, or at the MD's offices.  The MD also has a comment page at www.mdpinchercreek.ab.ca .

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