Rocky View County (RVC) council is hoping to enshrine recreational access rights to local water bodies and river systems through its road allowance policies moving forward.
Proposed changes to Municipal Development Plans, Area Structural Plans, Active Transportation Plans, and council’s Road Allowance Closure Policy C-443 introduced at the municipality's Nov. 26 council meeting would guarantee access rights on designated road allowances within the county, and seek counter-balances to protect local landowners’ private property rights on these same roads.
The policy measure stems from a conflict earlier this fall, when a Springbank area property owner sought to purchase a County road allowance running through his property and close it to public use over trespassing concerns. Citizens of the acreage community of Springbank had been using the County-owned road allowance for local river access off of Range Road 33 for recreational use.
Dozens of letters of opposition were submitted by Springbank residents when the property owner sought approval to purchase the road allowance at the public hearing held at RVC council on Sept. 13, and his bid was ultimately rejected.
In light of this conflict, RVC council authorized staff to pursue policies to balance the public’s demand for river and waterbody access and the privacy rights of local property owners.
At the Nov. 29 council meeting, County staff brought back a series of comprehensive suggestions on how to proceed with this council mandate, and asked for authorization from council to put in the time and work needed to do that.
The suggestions focused on supporting, in principle, the retention of road allowances for public recreation use, identifying through public consultation which road allowances must be preserved as public property to retain this recreational access into the future, protecting these accesses through official County policy, and identifying measures to protect adjacent landowner interests.
Under questioning from Division 5 Coun. Greg Boehlke, RVC staff confirmed there were only two current road allowances, both located near Springbank, where members of the public have been vocal about retaining recreational access to nearby waterbodies.
Boehlke wondered why council should be empowering staff to undertake such wide-sweeping changes to existing policy over just two road allowance disputes.
“I appreciate the effort,” he stated, “but I think we are spinning our wheels here. I can’t support this … I think we have got a mosquito taken aim (at) here with .308 rifles.”
Division 1 Coun. Kevin Hanson disagreed, feeling these policy and legislative changes were needed to deal with these types of access-related disputes as the County’s population continues to grow, and residential subdivisions continue to expand into lands once dedicated solely to agricultural or country residential use.
“Although it might not be very many (roads currently under dispute), in terms of population-wise, I think we can say this probably impacts 20 per cent of our residents, upwards of, by the time we look at the Bow River, Elbow River, and Nose Creek even,” he said.
Hanson then introduced a motion that staff be authorized to undertake the policy work to move forward to enshrine these public road allowance access rights to waterbodies and watercourses within RVC’s municipal planning documents, and within council’s bylaw legislation.
Staff would still have to return to council when that work is done for a vote on the policies developed.
Hanson’s motion passed 6-1, with only Boehkle voting against it.