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Birds of Prey gets approval from council for proposed learning centre

Posted on November 9, 2022 by Sunny South News
SSN PHOTO SUBMITTED

By Cal Braid
Sunny South News

The Birds of Prey Centre and Foundation has applied for a development permit to construct a new building to serve as a ‘Retreat and Environmental Learning Centre.’ Colin Weir, manager at the Centre appeared as a delegation during an Oct. 4 meeting of Coaldale council. Melanie Messier, senior planner for the Town presented a ‘request for decision’ document to council on behalf of the Foundation.

The development proposal specified that the new building would serve as a multi-use facility. Some of the uses listed in the proposal include hosting visiting groups to the centre, private group instruction, classroom learning, environmental learning, school group use, and special events like birthdays for children and families. Food service would be limited to refreshments and warmed-up meals, with no onsite cooking. The facility is designed to offer overnight accommodations and parking to allow visitors to remain onsite after hours. The overnight accommodation is primarily for tourists, and “will be a premium style accommodation, likely costing 50 per cent plus more than rates in Lethbridge/Coaldale,” according to the document. The day-use aspects of the facility would utilize the existing parking area on 16 Ave.

Messier’s planning document stated that the application presents opportunities for, “A unique facility within the town (that) will continue to build the Birds of Prey Foundation and the Town brands.” It also listed enhanced educational opportunities for students, collaboration with local schools, and additional accommodation options in the Town that could increase tourism and recreation opportunities.

The development and engineering notes state that “Since this will be a public facility, the Town is responsible for ensuring that the site accessibility and servicing are adequate, appropriate, and functional.”

During a Q&A period following Messier’s presentation, Coun. Jordan Sailer voiced concerns about the discrepancy between the building proposal and the new high school/rec centre development. “About six months ago, we had the Friends of the Birds of Prey in here, and they were (talking) about how the rec centre was going to be such an eyesore (…) and it was going to affect the birds and the wetlands. Here we are, six months later, putting in an application to put a giant building three meters away from the water. So, I’m just confused. Is this not going to affect the birds as well if the structure a kilometre away was going to affect them? Can you clarify that for me?”

“Sure,” Weir said. “It’s more about the degree of human activity that going to take place. So, one of the concerns with the high school is the location of the football field for example, where there was going to be several hundred people there for an event. (With) this structure here, there aren’t going to be those sorts of activities with the same amount of people. Just in general, with the high school, I think it was more about the potential for degradation of the greater wetland, housing developments, increased traffic flow, etc.”

Coun. Bill Chapman said, “It would be prudent to learn more about this simply because council is the approval body rather than the municipal planning commission.” Messier said that the manager of development engineering would need to be consulted on the specifics of the access and servicing.

In terms of planning, Weir said, “The Town is aware of the utilities in the area: the water and sanitary lines. The architects looked at those already and they’re deemed to be adequate for the demands for the building.” The planners requested a ‘relaxation’ of the rear yard setback zoning bylaw. “It’s just about trying to use the space as best as possible for public enjoyment. The property line that’s there is a little bit arbitrary—the Town owns both the sites anyway, so we’re basically trying to position the building in the best possible location,” Weir said.

The ‘request for decision’ invoked that the plan moving forward would be at the discretion of the development authority and the development engineer—but only if approved by council.

Weir said, “For us, this is basically a once-in-a-lifetime funding opportunity. It’s on the time-sensitive side. Travel Alberta put out a call for projects that would be creating new experiences. The grant amount that we got is $500,000 from Alberta Tourism.” He said the time frame requires them to have the money spent by March 31, 2023, emphasizing that delays would push construction deeper into more adverse weather conditions. “We’ve also got another funding application into the federal government for $500,000,” he said. Across the province, $15 million in tourism grants were available, and Weir said that the total amount requested from applications was $71 million. “We were one of the few fortunate ones to be funded in the full amount.” He referred to the federal grant as a “tourism relief infrastructure fund,” also under the same deadline. He said they’d like to start work within the next 30-60 days.

Council approved the development permit for the building, and a second motion for a picnic shelter “with conditions” was also approved.

On Nov. 2, Weir spoke to SSN and indicated that he was continuing to pursue different avenues of funding that would enable the centre to proceed and successfully complete the project.

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