750-site RV park planned for Buffalo Lake one step closer to reality
Paradise Shores project was locked in dispute process between summer villages and the county
A controversial development on the shores of Buffalo Lake is one step closer to reality, after a dispute between two summer villages and Stettler County was resolved.
The Paradise Shores RV park will see 750 sites built on land that sits between the villages of Rochon Sands and Whitesands, about 80 kilometres east of Red Deer.
Prior to the dispute resolution process, the plan was for 1,000 RV sites to be built — after an original proposal for 800.
After the agreement with the villages, the county council approved the project pending a development permit and meeting certain conditions.
"It's resolved as far as the councils go. I don't think the public and ratepayers are very happy about it," said Darrell Hicke, a Calgarian who owns a cabin in Whitesands. He's a vocal opponent of the project.
"One of the contentious issues here is that the number that was agreed to by the councils was never vetted or brought forward to the public."
Want much smaller project
Residents and property owners in the area have been fighting a pitched battle against the project, turning out in droves at a public meeting on the project and vastly outnumbering supporters in a letter-writing campaign.
They want a much smaller project.
"We had a little straw poll on our Facebook page and the vast majority said at least under 200 or 250 sites would have been acceptable," said Hicke.
"So, you know, if the developer can't make money at that, well that's his choice, but it would have fit with the size and density levels in this area."
County says hands were tied
Larry Clarke is the Reeve of the county and says there was nothing they could do, given the current intermunicipal development plan (IDP) signed by the villages and the county.
"So yes, it's progressed as it should with the way things were put at that point. We're living within what had been developed a few years ago," said Clarke.
"It is totally within the scope of what was shown in the IDP. I just don't think anyone thought anything of that magnitude would be coming to Buffalo Lake."
Clarke says he thinks the IDP will be re-examined in the wake of the Paradise Shores approval and says it has taught him the importance of expecting the unexpected when crafting long-term policies.
Development moved fast
Dan Hillier, the mayor of the summer village of Rochon Sands, says he's happy with the deal.
"He had originally applied for 1,000 lots, so we felt that 750 was a fair settlement," he said. "And now the county can proceed with the development permit that will have the actual stipulations for proper infrastructure upgrades and meet all the public's major concerns."
He says part of the problem and the controversy had to do with how quickly things progressed.
"Just the speed of everything, it kind of blindsided everybody," he said.
"Most developments like this get planned two years in advance. David Hamm is an aggressive developer. It's dollars and cents and … you've got to get it done and get it done fast and be efficient. I can't blame him for that."
Hamm is the president of RV Sites Canada, which is building the park.
Hillier said he'll be asking communities if there's interest in fast-tracking changes to the IDP, which he suggests could include size limits on future campgrounds.
Hicke, meanwhile, says he'll continue to fight the project at the development permit stage and beyond.
"I don't know what else we can do other than now look at forming a group, raising money and taking this to a legal challenge now," he said.
Paradise Shores has been pre-selling 35-year leases for the project and still says it will be partially open by this summer.
Hamm did not respond to requests for an interview, but did speak by phone prior to the resolution of the dispute.
"Everybody has a right to their opinion. I don't believe that it contravenes anything that was being planned. The IDP planned for over 7,000 new units around the lake years ago and they haven't achieved that," he said.
"I wouldn't have bought the property if the county hadn't said that is within what we were planning on the property."
When contacted by CBC News, White Sands Mayor Lorne Thurston declined to be interviewed.