RM Dufferin No. 190 - Ministry of Government Relations, Community Planning has completed their review of the contentious sale of Municipal Reserve Land at Highwood Beach. Sending it back to the RM council on March 16. Council reviewed the document at their regular council meeting the following day however it appeared from the agenda and their discussion that it was just a mere change in wording that needed to be corrected.
LMT has obtained a copy of the review directly from the Ministry of Government Relations after the RM failed to produce it despite the Municipalities Act’s requirement to provide it after request. LMT gave the letter to the purchaser Derek Fuchs and opponents of the sale Don and Lorraine Promhouse to review.
Councillors received the letter electronically to be discussed at the regular council meeting on March 17. When the item came up on the agenda, the letter was not read aloud for the public observing the proceedings over Zoom. On the agenda, the matter was listed as “Dedicated Sale Lands Bylaw- Wording Correction**” With the notation **- Denotes Listed Agenda Item Does Not Have Supporting Documentation on Electronic File.
In the letter obtained by LMT, the review said the bylaw did not meet the intent that the RM published because it was for the exchange of dedicated lands when the RM intended to sell municipal reserve land. It indicated the bylaw could be resubmitted with supporting documentation after they advertise, hold a public hearing and adopt the bylaw as altered.
The Ministry also asked the RM to provide the criteria they “used to determine the suitability to remove the lands from municipal reserve and re-designate them for residential use, including but not limited to current and future public recreation needs within the community, flood elevation and geotechnical information.”
Two of the Highwood Beach residents opposing the sale of the municipal reserve are Don and Lorraine Promhouse. Don Promhouse said after reading the letter, they found it was more detailed than what was said at the meeting, saying “the RM’s discussion of the letter wasn’t clear. It’s like the RM gave you a bit of the information but not all of the information. It would’ve been nice to have read that letter aloud to find out the full content.” The Promhouses said from what they heard at the meeting, it sounded like it was just a wording change that needed to happen, and the process would restart. They were surprised to find out the Ministry said the RM would need to do more than just a resubmission; the Ministry wants to know why the RM was selling the municipal reserve and expects the geotechnical information to be included in the resubmission.
The Promhouses have been adamant the process was not followed regarding the municipal reserve sale, “Its municipal reserve, we all own it. There’s not a lot left out there. As an RM it’s not just the people at Highwood Beach that has access to municipal reserve and we were under the understanding they cannot sell municipal reserve,” said Lorraine Promhouse.
The Promhouses said one of the reasons they opposed the sale was that, on July 3, 2020, Chief Administrative Officer Rodney Audette, and all of the council at that time, met with a group of concerned at Highwood Beach regarding another municipal reserve matter. They said at this meeting, CAO Audette told them the RM could not sell even a meter of municipal reserve.
The way this has played out has affected all of the stakeholders, including Resident of Highwood Beach, Derek Fuchs, who has been unable to start construction on his home.
Fuchs purchased the property adjacent to the municipal reserve in November of 2019 to build a new home and garage for his family. He said he would need the piece to situate its placement on his lot to build a garage and house. When he purchased his lot, he was aware the piece wasn’t part of his property. However, residents have said they thought the piece of municipal reserve belonged to the property as the former owner had a fire pit and a driveway on it, which they had used for years.
Fuchs said after reading the letter from the Ministry, he understands the bylaw’s wording needs to be corrected. Fuchs said he has multiple letters of support and is hopeful the sale will be finalized at the council’s April meeting, “I just want a house for me and my family.”
Jennifer Argue, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Last Mountain Times