Residential development proposed for Galloway Lands, local organizations push back

The Galloway Lands proposed residential development map. To the south of the development (top left of image) lies the Fernie Alpine Resort. (Image courtesy of gallowaylands.com)The Galloway Lands proposed residential development map. To the south of the development (top left of image) lies the Fernie Alpine Resort. (Image courtesy of gallowaylands.com)
An interpretive sign at the Elk Valley Nordic Centre. The Fernie Nordic Society operates the Elk Valley Nordic Centre on the lands proposed to be developed under the Galloway Lands proposal. The centre has been operating for the past seven seasons. (Courtesy of the Fernie Nordic Society)
The Fernie Nordic Society operates the Elk Valley Nordic Centre partially on the lands proposed to be developed under the Galloway Lands proposal. (Courtesy of the Fernie Nordic Society)
A view of Lizard Creek from the Elk Valley Nordic Centre. (Courtesy of the Fernie Nordic Society)

A proposed development between Mt. Fernie Provincial Park and the Fernie Alpine Resort (FAR) is facing push-back from the neighbours.

The area, a 457 acre tract of land referred to as the Galloway Lands would be divided into up to 75 multi-acre lots should the proposal go ahead.

The application to change the land use of the area is currently working its way through the RDEK bureaucracy. The large, currently forested (and previously logged) lot is zoned as a ‘rural resource’ and ‘rural residential (country)’ zone. The application is to change it to ‘rural residential (estate)’ and ‘parks and recreation.’

The application has not yet proceeded far enough to go to public hearings.

According to the application document submitted by the current landowner, CH Nelson Holdings, and their client, Handshake Holdings (the owner of the Fernie RV Resort), “the Galloway Lands aims to be a residential enclave situated gently within the natural environment.”

The site plan as envisioned would see the 457 acres divided into up to 75 lots that were at minimum, 2.5 acres in size. Some 320 acres of the entire development would be designated as a conservation area, while there would be restrictions on land-clearing and covenants enshrining human-wildlife conflict mitigation.

While the Galloway Lands are currently owned by CH Nelson Holdings, they have entered into a conditional agreement with Handshake Holdings for that company to acquire the lands. Both companies are working together on the application before the RDEK.

While the development is still working through internal review at the RDEK, according to RDEK staff they have already received a large number of ‘unsolicited letters’ as various groups have moved to organise in response to it.

One of those groups is the Fernie Snow Valley Community Association (FSVCA) which represents residents at FAR.

President of the FSVCA, Jay Zammit, told The Free Press that they had serious concerns about the ongoing application process, describing it as “at best flawed, and at worst ill designed for any reasonable person to follow.”

“Our aim is to make sure any development in the valley is done correctly, sustainably, with no long-term negative impact to residents and tax payers and takes into account structural and environmental resilience. We need to slow down the process in order to properly and thoroughly consider these factors.”

Many of the FSVCA concerns revolve around traffic management (as access to the development would be via roads in the FAR) and septic systems, as under the development proposal, each lot would have its own independent septic system, and not be hooked up to any municipal lines.

According to Zammit, a traffic impact assessment and groundwater feasibility assessment submitted to the RDEK are not adequate to address their concerns. Currently, there is only one public road that connects FAR (and therefore the Galloway Lands) to Hwy. 3.

Two environmental groups – Wildsight Elk Valley and the Elk River Alliance (ERA) – have also taken aim at the proposed development.

The ERA in particular is concerned for the area due to Lizard Creek which runs along the north-east border of the lot, and is part of the Elk River watershed.

George Greene of the ERA told The Free Press that they believed the proposed development was “not consistent with maintaining … the values this important land and water corridor provides to citizens — fish and fishing, wildlife, low-impact recreation – all of which are highly valued by Fernie and area residents.”

Wildsight also voiced concerns about the wildlife corridor, with local coordinator Randal Macnair saying that the development “would impact a key wildlife corridor that connects the Elk and the Columbia Valleys and beyond.”

“The development is being marketed as a ‘Conservation Subdivision’ yet, if it were approved, would directly impact connectivity for wildlife that depend on this area,” he said, explaining the corridor was used by grizzly bears and wolverines.

The Fernie Nordic Society (FNS) operates the Elk Valley Nordic Centre on the lands to be developed under the proposal by way of a land-use agreement with the current owner.

In an email to The Free Press, the FNS board wrote that while the proposed development intends to incorporate trails for skiing, biking and hiking, “the application is insufficient on details and commitment,” as it currently stands.

They said that they had met with the applicant to raise the concerns about gaps in information on trail connectivity, public access and parking facilities as well as details around covenants for trail access and conservation.

“The FNS has not yet received follow-up regarding these elements, and remains concerned about their impact on the viability of a quality cross-county skiing experience on the Galloway lands,” they said, adding that they too, had concerns around the RDEK review process.

Handshake Holdings did not respond to requests for an interview, but instead forwarded a document of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to The Free Press about the development.

Among the FAQs are explanations on ownership, history, plans and particulars around the development, including information on public access, septic systems and conservation.

According to the document, there is currently “no formal arrangement permitting long-term access to these lands” for public use, and the development would see the trails formalised and maintained with a covenant enshrining public access.

On water and septic use, it specifies that each home would have its own well to provide water, and its own septic system to distribute waste. According to the document the systems permitted would be type 2 or 3, which require less land clearing to create septic fields.

Conservation is also addressed.

“The proposed development plan includes large setbacks and other measures to ensure that this corridor in not impacted,” reads the document.

“We have identified a corridor along Lizard Creek that will be zoned as ‘Park and Recreation’. This corridor extends the length of Lizard Creek to ensure that the riparian corridor is protected in perpetuity. No development, including roads, trails, or other amenities, is proposed within the Lizard Creek corridor (except for the existing Nordic ski trail and bridge).”

A covenant will be placed over the corridor restricting tree removal and developments.

“Together, the zoning and covenants proposed for the Galloway Lands will ensure long-term protection of the Lizard Creek and form the final link in a connectivity corridor that extends from the Elk River to Island Lake Lodge.”

Besides those details, the document also lays out various proposed restrictive covenants for the development, such as the before-mentioned limit on the number of homes (up to 75), septic system requirements, the prohibition of ‘two-family dwellings’, the prohibition of growing flowers or vegetables for commercial purposes or keeping farm animals, as well as various restrictions on land-clearing.

According to the RDEK, the internal review process of the development will continue on through to mid-January. It is anticipated to appear before the regional district’s Planning and Development Services Committee for recommendations, and will then go to the Board of Directors for a decision. Only if it receives a productive response and goes through a first and second reading will it go through to a public hearing phase, where the regional district will solicit community feedback.

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