‘A big ol’ can of worms’: MD council discusses campground applications

·5 min read

After a lengthy public hearing reviewing an application for a dome campground, MD of Pincher Creek council discussed two other campground applications during the Aug. 23 regular council meeting.

The first was from Spearpoint Cattle Co. Ltd., which submitted an application to rezone a portion of SW-16-3-29-W4 from agriculture to rural recreation (RR1) to facilitate the development of three grain bins with renovated interiors for guests to stay in. A fourth grain bin would also be placed as a community gazebo and barbecue area.

The silos would be about 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide, and could accommodate up to four people over two levels. Each would be anchored to a concrete pad and fully insulated to allow for visitors to come year round.

The interior of each grain bin would feature a king-sized bed and amenities upstairs and a small living room, bathroom (with shower) and kitchen downstairs; the kitchen would include a sink, fridge and microwave, while the living room would have a pull-out couch and table with chairs.

Each silo would have its own electrical panel and be connected to electricity from a parallel line near the property. Heating would be supplied via electric baseboard heaters, with a small AC window unit also included. Water heaters would be provided in each unit, and an underground cistern (filled with water from Spearpoint’s private well) and septic tank would cover the water and wastewater needs.

Outdoor seating and a firepit would be provided outside each silo.

While not objecting to anything in the proposal, council members were wary MD policy was not adapted to the increased interest in providing tourist experiences in an agricultural setting.

“With Blak Star, it seemed to me to be a good idea. This doesn’t really bother me too — I don’t have an objection when I look at it, but I immediately thought about how we had quite a few chairs here [for the public hearing],” said Coun. John MacGarva.

“We’re just going to get more and more of these things,” he continued. “Are we going to hear all the same things — it's affecting rural values, we’re getting more people in, we’re providing accommodation for Waterton?”

“We have to seriously get on the ball and look at how we’re going to deal with Airbnbs and bed-and-breakfasts,” added Coun. Tony Bruder. “We as council, we’ve gotta figure out how we’re going to deal with this type of new business within our municipality.”

“We’ve almost got the cart before the horse,” Bruder continued. “I don’t think we’re prepared to make these decisions. We have to sit down and figure out where in the municipality we want these developments, and more important, where don’t we want them.”

An important consideration, he added, is whether setbacks from neighbours’ houses should be required.

“This is another situation, instead of putting it in their home quarter or the quarter beside their home, it’s in the same quarter with another home. It’s ‘Let’s go put it across the road from the neighbours instead of across the fence from my house,’ ” said Bruder.

“This is a big ol’ can of worms.”

Reeve Rick Lemire agreed, adding that the topic needs to be implemented in the municipality’s strategic plan, since tourist interest in the area is only going to grow.

“It should be there to help — a person comes in and we’ll say, our usage, we can’t have this here. If you’re applying, and it sits in this area, sorry, it’s not allowed,” he added. “It’s pretty easy. It’s kind of like what we do with the windmills.”

Since one major concern with rezoning for tourist accommodation was that nothing could stop a landowner from growing a campground to fill the entire property, one of the options council discussed was direct control zoning.

Direct control would allow the initially proposed development to occur, but any additional structures or development would need to go through the application process through council again, including advertising, notifying the neighbours, and a public hearing.

Two properties in the MD are currently zoned as direct control: Hiawatha Campground and a subdivided piece of property west of Mill Creek.

While DC zoning does give council more control over how tourist developments grow, CAO Roland Milligan said a drawback is that it’s an inefficient way to administer the land-use bylaw.

“Direct control, it’s not the best thing to do — you really should look at your bylaw to get a use that works properly for zoning,” he said, adding that rezoning for another designation like Rural Recreation 2 might be a better strategy since developments like campgrounds would involve a process through the development officer.

An additional strategy could be to only rezone a portion of the property, thus allowing the development but limiting its size.

“I think there’s some tweaking we could do on that,” Milligan said.

Ultimately, council decided to table voting on first reading for the silo accommodations until after the direct control zoning could be discussed with Spearpoint, along with the potential to rezone a smaller portion of the property.

Similarly, council approved second reading for a proposed rezoning next to the Waterton Reservoir that would allow the creation of a 10- to 12-site campground. Third reading was deferred to a future meeting to see if the applicant would be willing to rezone a smaller portion of the property. Currently, the proposal is to rezone 31 acres from agriculture to rural recreation.

Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze