FireSmart regs for development on the skids

Cost of making the community safer appears to be too high

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Once upon a time, town councillors thought it would be a very good idea to require new subdivisions – and the homes within them – to use fire-resistant materials. That, plus landscaping measures aimed at discouraging wildfire. It made perfect sense at the time, and town staff (and others) put a large amount of time and effort into developing a bylaw to make it happen.

But nine years after the wildfire disaster that provoked it, the idea is on life support and the plug may be pulled altogether. The Municipal Planning Commission voted against it a few weeks ago. Last week, a divided town council balked at voting on it because it looked as if it would be a three-three tie.

The main objection appears to be cost. While all councillors like fire hazard reduction in principal, some can’t get past the idea that imposing higher costs might deter development.

“It should be education-based,” said councillor Brice Ferguson at council’s Sept. 15 meeting. In other words, not mandatory.

There was talk of making a fire hazard assessment a condition of development. But if you require an assessment, but don’t require people to actually do anything?

“That’s kind of weird,” said CAO David Kim.

What council needs to decide is if preventing fires from getting into town is worth inconveniencing anybody. If not, they’re talking merely of ‘guidelines.’ Something without teeth.

Councillor Rebecca King was clearly not okay with that. If she was building, “I wouldn’t follow guidelines,” she said. “A brochure for me wouldn’t do it.”

Councillor Julie Brandle was in the ‘no’ camp. “These rules are very restrictive,” she said. “Development is not happening already. This actually scares me.”

What’s proposed is that only the undeveloped areas south of Hwy. 2 would have the FireSmart requirements. They would not be imposed on any developments within existing neighbourhoods (including Gloryland).

Mayor Warman was in favour of easing off on the construction materials part of the proposed bylaw (the expensive ones), but sticking with the ones that set out where and what you can do in the space around your house. How many conifer trees, how they should be spaced, what you can and can’t have up against your house and so on.

“I struggle with this,” he said. “We would make the community safer. Most of the feedback we got was negative. I feel we need some tweaks.”

Warman asked each councillor to state their view and when it came to him he noted that a tie vote seemed likely (councillor Shawn Gramlich was absent).

“Maybe we need all of council here,” he said.

Council decided to table the matter until Oct. 6.

Slave Lake’s two zones, as envisioned in the proposed FireSmart regulations for new development. Area ‘B’ would have the new requirements and Area ‘A’ wouldn’t.

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