By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
Residents raising a stink over a potential land-use bylaw amendment has led Picture Butte council to scrapping it
During Picture Butte town council’s regular Nov. 27 meeting, a public hearing was held on the proposed bylaw no. 864-17 — which aimed to amend the town’s land use bylaw to include clarifications for extensive agriculture on town land, and prohibiting the keeping of livestock and manure spreading on town land. Coun. Teresa Feist was absent.
The bylaw would affect land primarily classified as a Urban Reserve (UR) land use district. Steve Harty, from the Oldman River Regional Services Commission and town planner, said that the stuff that the proposed bylaw seeks to clarify has been in the land-use bylaw already for the past 19 years and what they were doing was some house keeping by clearing it up.
“What it largely involves is two things; one is to add some clarity to the existing standards under land-use regulations in the town’s bylaw, in particular to the urban reserve land-use district, and also adding some additional language in the bylaw regarding the definition for some existing uses that are already in the town’s land-use bylaw,” said Hardy, adding that urban reserve land is earmarked for potential town growth, with the aim to preserve the parcels and limit development, and tend to be kept as farmland. “The amendments that are in place before council tonight for consideration, part of the advertised public hearing, is to clarify a few of those uses, getting to the agricultural and animal aspect of this land-use district.
“Those uses that are being clarified, have been in the town’s bylaw since 1998, so almost 20 years now, in place by previous councils. So 19 years, it’s been in the bylaw like that.”
According to the land use bylaw, prohibited uses of land within UR designated land districts include keeping of farm or exotic animals, including cattle feedlots, swine barns, poultry barns, etc.; noxious and hazardous uses; and shipping containers. According to the definition in the bylaw, “Noxious or hazardous uses are those land uses which may be detrimental to public health, safety and welfare or those uses which because of their toxic gases, noxious smells, wastes, noise, dust or smoke emissions may be incompatible with residential or other development”. Although administration says manure spreading is included under noxious and hazardous use, it is not defined as that, and the term ‘manure’ does not appear once in the bylaw as it currently stands. The bylaw only applies to agricultural manure. The last time the land-use bylaw was amended was in 2015.
About a dozen people were in attendance during the hearing. No when came forward when Picture Butte Mayor Cathy Moore asked if anyone wanted to speak in favour of the bylaw.
Ron Bezooyen was the first to speak in opposition. As a farmer with land in the town boundaries, he would be negatively affected by the bylaw. He said he understood the town putting restriction in the bylaw for things such as manure spreading, for instance working it into the ground in four hours instead of 48 hours.
“I propose some amendments to the bylaw, sure, that’s fine. But maybe change some of the time frames when manure (spreading) has to be done, and certain winds, go that route instead of trying to shut it down completely,” said Bezooyen.
Daniel Arnoldussen, coordinator for Bethesda Care Home, which is located across from some potentially affected land, spoke in opposition of the bylaw, saying the potentially affected land was “a beautiful sight” and that Bethesda residents enjoy the sight of cows. He noted that if you travel a little further south of Bethesda, you enter encounter county land, whose landowners go by “all different sort of rules”, adding that in the middle of town where he lives, you can still encounter problems such as animal feces and noises, it wasn’t just limited.
“I think we live in a farming community, we have lots of support from our county farmers around us, and we need to incorporate them as much as possible,” said Arnoldussen. “A piece of farmland, a fence that keeps cows in there — a beautiful sight, causes no harm to anybody. I think we should be a little bit cautious to put restrictions on them, when half a mile down the road, they’re spreading manure, it’s coming clear across to the north side smelling it, and I would ask the town council to be very cautious with putting restrictions on farmers that are within town limits.”
When asked to clarify, Arnoldussen said he had no problems with manure spreading on the land, as the landowner — Bezooyen — was very diligent in working it in, and the cows are fenced and make little noise, so he had no problem with both issues.
Another farmer, Shane Schooten, said he and his brother recently purchased some land west of town that fell within the town boundaries. He echoed Bezooyen’s concerns, adding he thought calling the amendments housekeeping was “a little bit odd for 20 years”.
“Some amendment are due, but right now, I’ll speak to both points. The cattle grazing thing I think is not going to cause any harm, for me that’s clear,” said Schooten. “On the manure spreading side, we have regulation right now through the NRCB (Natural Resources Conservation Board) and the county, so I don’t think them regulations should be standard for town limit land, I think the amendments should have some sort of, kind of in-between there. If we’re going to spread manure close to town, we’ll going to get it done quick, at the right time, right weather conditions the best we can. So I think you have to have some sort of something in there that limits that a little bit, but to just say ‘Okay, you’re not allowed to spread fertilizer on your land, manure, organic matter’, just to wipe that out I don’t agree with.”
Nearby town resident to a potentially affected property, Mitch Bazant, also spoke up to say that the cattle were not a problem, proposing that instead the town allows some sort of variance. He noted that the manure was dry in the past July, but “it didn’t have an odour to it just a little bit of dust”. He noted that both cattle and crops do well on that land.
Roelof Heinen said that he was glad of the clarification, as Home Hardware sells bags of manure that people put in their gardens in town. He said that the last time the town had expanded was in the 1970s, and called into question council putting restrictions on farmers with land in town boundaries.
“Are you going to draw a line saying ‘Okay, you can’t graze your cattle’ so you have to put a fence up, then I would suggest the town should be doing is fencing the town boundaries and saying ‘Okay, that’s as far as you can go’,” said Heinen. “You see those black cattle in that field? It looks awesome. We are a community based on agriculture, always have been. It was from the sugar factory, and now the rural agriculture area — that’s what’s making this community.”
Coun. Henry de Kok spoke up to restate that the rules had been in place for almost 20 years.
“It’s not like we’re adding them in now,” said de Kok. “It’s just being clarified for legal reasons. The grazing and the manure spreading hasn’t been allowed since 1998, right? It’s just, they’re just putting a few definitions in for the proposal.”
Town CAO Keith Davis said that farm animals had been prohibited since before 1998 in a previous land-use bylaw, along with noxious and hazardous use, but was just not defined, and “as it’s current currently drafted, manure spreading would be a hazardous and noxious use”.
Addressing Heinen, Deputy Mayor Joe Watson said that “what we did in the past sometimes is not okay now”. Noting he will be taking a stance on it when council votes on the matter, talking about one person in the county was “a whole different ballgame” then 100 people in the town.
“What we need to do is think about what’s going on in the boundaries of the town. 100 years ago, the one piece of land was set up and incorporated in the town. Why? Who knows, but it is there,” said Watson. “That land could eventual turn in residential or industrial property, and a lot of money could be made on the land that way too. The fact is, and I’ve had this discussion with Ron (Bezooyen), you’ve got one guy, and what goes on in the county is different then what goes on in the boundaries of the town, and we’re dealing with what goes on in the boundaries of the town.
“I don’t think there’s a town in Alberta — if you can find one let me know — that allows spreading agricultural manure — and agricultural manure is stipulated in here, and not your bagged manure — I don’t think there is one in Alberta that allows spreading of agriculture manure within the boundaries of a town or a city. And I’ve looked and I couldn’t find one.”
Watson said that the town was also dealing with about 100 people living along the south end of town who were affected, compared to just one landowner.
Heinen pointed out that people had complained about the odour with the sugar factory, and still complained when they switched to dry pulp, which produced a sweet smell. Pointing out that it was a green practice, as long as the manure was worked into the land quickly it should not be an issue.
Area farmer Shawn Vander Heyden said that that more people lived in the county compared to the town — 10,353 compared to 1,810 according to the 2016 census. Under county rules and NRCB, he said you can spread manure to somebody’s backdoor as long as you work it in the ground in 48 hours. He proposed allowing manure spreading but to incorporated right behind the manure spreaders, so it is work into the ground. He said it didn’t make sense to tell a farmer they can use one type of fertilizer here but they can’t use it there.
“Just because there’s no other town’s within the county or province or whatever, that let’s somebody else spread manure on that land within town limits, just because all your friends jump head first off a bridge, doesn’t mean you have to as well,” said Vander Heyden.
“We’re an agricultural community. Where’s the bread-and-butter and where’s the money made in this community? It’s in agriculture and it’s in farming, so just be fair,” said Vander Heyden.
Ray Grisnich, a landowner with potentially affected property, said that they need to change the definition “of what is actually noxious”. He too proposed putting exceptions into the bylaw, otherwise the town should “un-annex the land, give it back to the county, and don’t worry about it”.
Coun. Cynthia Papworth said she wanted to see the town and county to “cohabitate”, and they would do their best to support the county and vice versa. Noting that the proposed changes were not finalized, she assured that they would take the comments heard that evening under consideration.
Watson asked if they could potentially include language in bylaws to allow grazing animals on UR designated land and/or during certain time of the year, to which Davis said they could, although they would have to amend both the land-use and animal bylaws to do so. Harty cautioned that that they couldn’t do so that night, as it wasn’t included under the advertised public hearing, and recommended that if council wishes to do that, they should defeat the bylaw and give administration new direction.
Watson also pointed out to the room that manure handling has been abused in the past, proposing a setback. A permit system was also suggested by those in attendance. Thanking the attendees, Moore closed the public hearing.
Later in the meeting, when council was discussing the bylaw, Harty stressed that the amendment was just to clarify existing rules in the land-use bylaw, and that even if they defeat the bylaw, it wouldn’t change anything, livestock and manure spreading would still be banned unless council does something about it.
“This was put in the bylaw in ’98, and I think it was done at that time because of some problem the town was experiencing in the late, mid 90s, with some of the manure application and livestock, a lot of residents complained,” said Harty.
“Obviously in the 90s, mid-90s, something happened that council of the day decided to change it. It’s been that way now for almost 20 years. The problem is in the last 20 years, we haven’t had cattle out there and nobody’s complained or said anything, it’s just been farmland, it’s been cultivated basically, for the many years I’ve been working with the town. Things change, situation changes, land ownership changes, one landowner does something then the previous one did right. You need to think about the rules — even if you are changing them — to make it clear to everybody that this is how it’s done.”
Watson said that the bylaw issue was “vital” for the community. Papworth added she was under the impression that the issue with manure spreading was that it had gone off UR land and onto town property, pointing out that with the proposed amendments, they were only making the land-use bylaw more specific, noting that if they wanted to be more “cooperative” with county people, then they needed to change some parts of the bylaw.
Administration gave three options for council to consider: perform second and final reading of the bylaw as is to clarify that manure spreading and livestock are banned on UR land; direct administration to draft a amendment to allow livestock on UR land; and direct administration to draft a amendment to allow manure spreading on UR land. With the latter option, council would have to defeat the bylaw amendment.
Moore said that her issue on defeating the bylaw was “What are you saying to the town’s people that you’re suppose to be protecting” if you allow manure spreading within town limits.
Watson noted that if a neighbour did something in their yard he didn’t like, as long as they obeyed the town’s bylaws he can’t do a thing about it. He said his issue with manure spreading wasn’t so much in the smell but in the dust, which has particles in it and “isn’t just plain dust”, and they couldn’t have that spreading into nearby neighbourhoods and people breathing it in. He recommended defeating the bylaw and taking another look at the issue.
“I just think we need to back up a little bit here and clean this bylaw up,” said Watson, adding that he was in favour of four-hour window for manure spreading and NRCB regulations.
Council defeated the second reading of bylaw 864-17 in a 3-1 split vote, with Watson, de Kok and Papworth voting against.
The defeat of second reading kills the bylaw.
Council then passed a motion to direct administration to investigate options for amending the land-use bylaw to allow permitted of manure spreading and permitted grazing of livestock, noting afterwards that although council might decide to do one or the other, he would like to see some different options. Council passed that motion in a 3-1 split, with Watson, de Kok and Papworth voting for it.