Council debates land use for East Hill property

City council looks at RDEK zoning referral asking for input on added land use definition.

City Council debated an RDEK referral to add in a land use definition for a solar farm to a property east of Cranbrook.

City Council debated an RDEK referral to add in a land use definition for a solar farm to a property east of Cranbrook.

Cranbrook city council grappled with a zoning referral from regional government concerning a parcel of land that has been the subject of controversy in the past.

The Regional District of East Kootenay gave the city a heads up on a proposed zoning change to a 2,700 hectare plot of land to the east of Cranbrook municipal boundaries.

The proposed change would add a definition of ‘Solar Energy Facility’ to the existing RR-60, Rural Resource zone to allow the use of new definition, should the owners of the parcel wish to set up such a facility.

According to city council documents, the applicants do not have a specific project in mind but believe that the nature of any solar development project is unobtrusive and environmentally safe.

City staff recommended that the city’s interests are unaffected by the proposed change, something that councillor Norma Blissett took issue with.

“Right now, that area is all forested, so you would have to remove all the tree cover of an area larger than all of Cranbrook right now,” Blissett said. “That’s massive, and that does affect us, that’s our viewscape, so we couldn’t say we’re unaffected.”

The land parcel itself was part of a controversial referendum as Cranbrook citizens went to the polls in November 2009, narrowly voting down a proposal to expand the city’s boundaries to include the property within city limits by a vote of 2,616 to 2,581. Sheldon Isaman, who spearheaded the proposal, put parcel up for sale in 2011 for $10 million.

The zoning designation is under the jurisdiction of the RDEK, however, city staff pointed out that the proposal isn’t a rezoning, rather, an addition of a permitted use within the zoning language.

“I think what the comments from staff are indicating in this particular case is they’re looking at adding this as a permitted use within the existing zone, so they’re not actually changing the existing zoning of the property,” said Eric Sharpe, the Director of Engineering and Development Services.

“So it has to do with the solar utility structure within it, but it’s not actually changing the zoning, it’s adding another use to that zone for that property.”

Mayor Lee Pratt noted that any concerns the city had could be brought up at monthly RDEK members, where he sits as one of the board of directors, along with councillor Tom Shypitka.

“I’ve met with the party that’s involved in this, they came through here and were talking to numerous land owners about trying to see if they could buy the land to put the solar farm on,” said Pratt.

“He mentioned all the way from Radium, down to Yahk, to the Alberta border, he had a number of parcels where he had meetings with the landowners.

“So I might think that what they’re doing here is trying to find out what the interest is and if there’s a possibility that this could be rezoned and they might pursue down that path.

“…This is not cut and dried that they’re going to build a solar farm, there’s a lot of hoops they have to jump through yet that they have to be approved, and I’m sure when that time comes, when we sit at the Regional District, we can bring up the viewscape and those comments too. Right now, I think they’re trying to get a feel whether to proceed so they can do their due diligence and proceed with it.”