Council wrangles with admin. over policy on lot-grading

Admin. defends town’s practice of making sure drainage works properly

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Slave Lake town council’s longest discussion at its Feb. 6 meeting – indeed in weeks – was somewhat surprisingly on the topic of lot grading. Apparently the town’s procedure on the matter is not popular with developers. That was not stated explicitly, but was implied.

Council was being asked to approve a policy on the matter.

There wasn’t anything new in the policy; according to Planning and Development Director Laurie Skrynyk, it was a matter of formalizing the practice that has been followed since 2011.

But something must have been going on behind the scenes, because this not particularly talkative council had all kinds of concerns and questions and reservations. Or to put a finer point on it, three of them did.

One of the concerns had to do with the planning department’s custom of site visits to compare something called the ‘lot grading certificate’ (LGC) with reality on the ground. Skrynyk said developers are getting better at this, but still about 50 per cent of the time, there are deficiencies that have to be addressed. The big concern, she said, is that water should drain properly off a property – meaning away from the house and not onto adjacent properties. The concern of council – at least of mayor Tyler Warman – was that this was costing the town time and money that could maybe be saved if the lot grading certificates were providing enough information.

Apparently they aren’t. If slumping next to the foundation occurs, for example, the LGC wouldn’t catch it. What the town does not want to do, said Skrynyk, is sign off on a development that has looming drainage problems.

Warman kept pressing the notion that the town could save money by tweaking the process (thereby requiring less staff time doing inspections). Skrynyk resisted that and got support from CAO Brian Vance. Site visits happen for a variety of purposes, not just the grading inspections, he said, and cutting them down isn’t “going to save us a ton of time.”

There are likely other objections to the town’s insistence on lot grading compliance. The presence of at least one developer in the gallery at the meeting hinted at that. So did one of Skrynyk’s defences of the policy, provoked by something not expressed by anyone at the meeting:

“Ninety per cent of the time the development isn’t finished anyway. It’s (lot-grading approval) not holding up the release of the deposit.”

Sump drainage isn’t directly related to lot grading policy, but it came up anyway. Councillor Julie Brandle noted the difficulties of certain properties in town in complying with the rules when their sumps are more or less constantly pumping water. Their lawns are saturated, she said, and there seems nowhere to direct the water but over the sidewalk and into the gutter, which is apparently against the rules.

Skrynyk acknowledged the dilemma in that small number of cases. As long as the owners are making a decent effort to dispose of the water on site, the town isn’t going to make a fuss about it. But the sump pipe should not be discharging water directly onto the sidewalk, or even onto the town ‘boulevard’ portion of their front lawn.

On the other side of the equation, “you should be aware that we get a lot of complaints,” about sump runoff, she said.

“This community is built on a swamp,” observed councillor Darin Busk. “You have to have some leeway.”

Getting back to lot grades, Warman asked what may have been a rhetorical question, but also one that might be on a lot of people’s minds.

“Why do we care?”
“It’s providing protection to the landowner,” said Skrynyk, adding that if drainage doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, “it comes back to us all the time.”

Warman, wrapping things up, provided a hint as to why council seemed hesitant to approve the policy.

“Council heard from developers,” he said. “They’re quite concerned about some of these pieces. Council would like to talk to them.” He suggested the vote on the policy should be tabled for a couple of weeks. Skrynyk had no problem with that, but said she’d like a chance to talk further with council on the matter as well.

The policy will be back before council for decision on Feb. 20.

An example of slumping next to a foundation that might have been missed in the lot grading certificate.
Photo courtesy Town of Slave Lake

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