Bashaw town council unanimously defeats 'wellness centre' intended for First Nations

·5 min read

Bashaw town council unanimously defeated an application from a private facility wishing to host a family wellness program for First Nations families after months of back and forth with the applicants.

The decision was made at a special council meeting Aug. 30.

James Carpenter, Tony Mucciarone and Audrey Ward applied to the Town of Bashaw to change uses at a facility at 5340 51A Street sometimes called the Bashaw Retreat Centre to a “wellness centre,” and referred to the proposed facility on official documents as the Bear Hills Wellness Centre, a reference to the district surrounding Maskwacis, a First Nations community 60 kms. northwest of Bashaw.

Documents provided to the town suggest Carpenter and Mucciarone own the facility while Ward is an employee at Maskwacis.

Town Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Theresa Fuller presented the only agenda item for the meeting to council, the application for a development permit for the building in question. As the land use was different the town’s development authority had to approve it, and as the facility is zoned “direct control” (DC) the development authority is town council.

Fuller noted this development permit application was filed in January 2022.

Fuller’s report stated that on May 20 council sent a letter to the applicants requesting more information about the proposal and also extended the decision period of 40 days by an additional 90 days. She also noted Wayne Moonias of the Louis Bull tribal council spoke directly to Bashaw council June 14.

Councillors then heard a presentation by professional planner Liz Armitage of Vicinia Planning who was contracted by the town to help review the Bear Hills Wellness Centre application.

Armitage stated she looked at the application with the help of town staff through the lens of municipal and provincial requirements, saying the application had a “vague description” of the centre’s proposed use.

Armitage stated the town sent seven letters to the applicants asking for more information, dated Jan. 11 and 19, Feb. 10 and 24, March 3 and 15 and April 19.

Armitage noted she and town staff struggled to understand exactly what the centre’s use was, according to responses.

“We’re still unsure of what it said,” said Armitage, who was present at the meeting, adding that ambiguity made it difficult to understand the proposal.

She stated that, according to language used by the municipality, the proposed uses at the Bear Hills Wellness Centre were not clear.

Fuller noted many agencies were asked to comment on the proposal and their comments were included in the package.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) Public Health Inspector/Executive Officer Dermian Ayalefac stated AHS had no problems with the proposal as presented.

“The aforementioned application has been received by our office and we have no objections to the proposed development/business operation,” stated Ayalefac's May 13 letter.

Battle River School Division appeared to agree. “We do not have any comments to provide,” stated Imogene Walsh, secretary-treasurer, BRSD in a May 5 email. The applicant’s site is located near Bashaw School.

The Bethany Group and Camrose County likewise had either no objection or no comment and the RCMP did not provide written comments. However, former Bashaw RCMP commander S/Sgt. Bruce Holliday did make a verbal presentation to council.

Ward is executive director of the Maskwacis Young Spirit Winds Society, which, according to the Youth Solvent Addiction Committee website, is a day program which offers holistic treatment to youth ages 12 to 17 on topics such as addictions and assessments, cultural identity, anger management and cycle of violence and family and community among others.

Armitage stated that development permits approved by the Town of Bashaw must comply with the Municipal Development Plan (MDP) and the Land Use Bylaw (LUB) and there were no land uses in the LUB that Bear Hills fully matched although her report stated it seemed some of the following uses partially applied: family care facility, group home, medical clinic, residential care facility and child care facility.

When the applicants were asked to provide a description of the Bear Hills Wellness centre in language that matched the Municipal Government Act (MGA) no response was received.

Armitage stated that a development permit shouldn’t be issued without a clear understanding of how the development will affect neighbours and she noted the proximity of residential areas and the school.

“It is the opinion of Vicinia Planning & Engagement Inc. that the application does not meet professional planning standards and has significant deficiencies which do not enable the development authority to make an informed decision,” she stated, including the fact the applicant didn’t provide a clear description of the facilities’ proposed uses, didn’t include on or off site safety plans, didn’t provide an environmental public health review, didn’t address proximity of residential areas and a school to the site, didn’t address the size and scope concerns of the proposal and didn’t address how the proposal could affect nearby parcels of land.

Mayor Rob McDonald stated he’d vote against the proposal.

“I would be in favour of refusal...as it just doesn’t fit in that area,” said McDonald.

Coun. Kyle McIntosh noted a motion he made at a previous meeting requesting more information about the wellness centre which he felt he never received, and added he felt the town was clear on what was missing.

Councillors unanimously denied the development permit request.

Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, East Central Alberta Review