On Friday, August 4, a proposal for the Lizard Creek Subdivision was brought forward at the Regional District Meeting in Cranbrook, and was approved with the support of 10 out of 15 directors in the Regional District of East Kootenay.
This amends the Official Community Plan (OCP) and the Elk Valley Zoning Bylaw, allowing developer Jon Knauf to start the rezoning and construction of eight strata lots on 29.6 acres, beside Lizard Creek Road, just outside the City of Fernie and near Fernie Alpine Resort. There will be two non-strata residential acreage lots left fronting on Lizard Creek road.
This area was previously zoned for larger properties, and to allow for the subdivision, it had to be rezoned to smaller parcels.
This decision unleashed a firestorm of public protests on social media. By Monday, hundreds had reacted and voiced their opinions on a Facebook post by Wildsight, which claimed that despite 449 letters against the subdivision, it was approved, and that this area is critical connectivity habitat for grizzly bears.
In a public hearing on May 24, 509 letters were presented to council with 70 members of the public present. Sixty letters supported the project and 449 opposed it.
During the meeting, Area A Director Mike Sosnowski took the directors through several points which led to the decision of his approval for the project.
He started off by showing a map of the subject property, which is sandwiched between Fernie Alpine Resort, Mount Fernie Provincial Park, the City of Fernie and Island lake Resort.
Island Lake Resort is under a current OCP from 2009, and is zoned for a maximum of 260 units in all areas except for the resort core which is undetermined at this time.
The Cedars Community, right beside Mount Fernie Provincial Park, is zoned for 140 single-family and 125 multi-family dwellings.
Sosnowski then showed a map of over 50 kilometres of mountain bike trails two miles from the City of Fernie. He referenced a report from last July, which was the result of a counter placed outside of the Provincial Park on the Island Lake access road. This tallied 22,000 individuals passing in either direction, on this road, in the month of July.
“It is unbelievable how many people are in this area,” said Sosnowski.
He went on to say that in the past 15 years, the elk, moose, and deer populations have become scarce. He said that the grizzly bear population has also diminished. Although he said that the black bear numbers have remained steady because of the garbage.
“It’s too late to think of this watershed as a mecca for wildlife,” he said. “Regrettably, that time has passed.”
On the August 4 agenda was a report by Virgil Hawkes, Vice President and Senior Wildlife Biologist, LGL Ltd. Hawkes reviewed several documents as they pertain to grizzly bears in the vicinity of the proposed Lizard Creek development.
He stated that the Lizard Creek property represents ~ 0.0014 per cent of the total usable area (8,119 km squared) associated with the South Rockies Grizzly Bear Population Unit.
“For reasons outlined below, the proposed development is not likely to impact the South Rockies Grizzly Bear Population Unit,” read the report.
It stated that hunting will not be a threat to wildlife, because the area is residential. It also said the development is not industrial in nature or scale and won’t result in large-scale habitat loss. It continued by saying the habitat connectivity will be maintained and buffered, particularly between the highway and the first property and between Lizard Creek and the development. It also said that although not studied in detail, the suitability of property under consideration for development is not highly suitable habitat due to the proximity to the highway, existing developments, and that the Fernie Ski Area A portion of the proposed development has already been developed (the eastern edge abutting the highway).
Sosnowski admitted that there was much opposition in the amendment of the Official Community Plan, however, he believes that, “The OCP language supports this development.”
He referenced a time, seven years ago, when the Knauf family started the process of becoming approved for this subdivision.
“They have gone through the OCP process, and they have answered all the questions and concerns,” he said.
Sosnowski made sure to point out that regardless of whether or not the subdivision was approved, Wildsight had accomplished much with their 400+ letters and social media posts.
“If this subdivision moves forward or not, they have successfully (launched) a social media campaign about saving bears, for which they will be rewarded with continued support from their U.S. donors.
“It was a stunt, and it worked.”
The Director for Area A went on to say that Wildsight never opposed the development for any other major subdivision, such as the Cedars Development, “But now they have this big outcry for an eight-lot subdivision.”
Sosnowski said he grew up in this area, and doesn’t like what it has become.
“When I grew up, it was a wild place,” said Sosnowski. “Fifteen years ago, the people moved in, mountain bikers moved in, the hikers, more building, and the animals moved out. Now it’s a front-country tourism place.”
He then addressed everyone who sent in a letter, opposing the project.
“They really believed they were saving something,” he said. “For them to do what they did, I give them a lot of credit.”
He went on to voice his opinion regarding the subdivision, but before doing so, admitted it might not be the most popular one.
“The proponent has checked all the boxes, and when somebody does that, in my opinion, they deserve to be approved,” said Sosnowski.
Following Sosnowski’s statements, a few members present voiced their opinions.
One stated that he recently returned to the area and took a trip up to Island Lake. He said he was appalled at the amount of development and that the area was already destroyed. He added that there was too much development in the area already, and for this reason, he is opposed to the project. Another referenced a document of a concerned citizen who has had issues with unstable land in a certain section of this proposed area. This member proposed a geo-tech study to be conducted, and until this was completed, he objected to the project.
Fernie Mayor Mary Giuliano later said she was originally opposed to the project, but “…at the meeting, new information was presented that addressed many concerns and provided a great deal of facts…”
A motion was then called on the floor that the OCP would be amended to allow for the development of the Lizard Creek Subdivision. Ten of 15 voted for the project. Director Juras, director Booth, director Wilkie, director Doehle and director McKerracher voted against the project.