Fernie residents are asking the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) to reject bylaw amendments that would allow a 12 hectare subdivision in grizzly bear habitat.
The RDEK is considering an application by developer Jon Knauf to amend the Official Community Plan (OCP) and the Elk Valley Zoning Bylaw to allow for the subdivision beside Lizard Creek Road, just outside the City of Fernie and near Fernie Alpine Resort.
Bylaws to approve the subdivision have already passed first and second reading. The RDEK will hear third reading at a June 9 board meeting, at which point they could be sent to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure before being adopted.
RDEK planning technician Jean Terpsma said she received 58 letters of support and 408 letters against the proposal.
The majority of residents attending a May 24 public hearing on the issue at the Fernie Family Centre were against the proposed subdivision.
Residents were invited to speak for or against the amendments at the public hearing. One attendee spoke in favour of the subdivision and over a dozen were opposed.
“I love Fernie with all my heart but this is ridiculous,” said Christel Meller, “There are too many people living in that little area. You will ruin it.”
“My concern is the density of development and that many houses are going to cause the wildlife to not use that area,” said Leslie Frank.
Stella Swanson, an aquatic biologist and an ecological risk assessor, said she’d helped develop the OCP and spoke against the subdivision saying it represented, “yet another example of death by a thousand cuts.”
“I would urge you to reconsider the approval of the application,” she said. “In my opinion the approval of a development proposal that does not meet an existing OCP is really not consistent with the process and with the decision making I as a stakeholder thought I was buying into.”
Wildsight East Kootenay has called on residents to oppose the subdivision, as it would be built in important grizzly bear habitat.
Ryland Nelson, Wildsight’s Southern Rockies program manager, said local governments need to do a better job of planning how wildlife move and around and through the community.
“Next time we go through the OCP, let’s put some wildlife corridors on the map and say ‘these are preserved for wildlife,’ to provide some certainty for developers in the future,” he said.
In an emailed statement, Wildsight said allowing the subdivision would increase the risk of human-animal conflict. The organization said the area is critical grizzly bear connectivity habitat that allows bear populations to move from the Lizard Basin to the Elk Valley.
Wildsight cited a 2007 report by the Wildlife Conservation Society of Canada and the University of Alberta to show that the area’s bear population is in decline.
The report identifies the area slated for the subdivision as vulnerable habitat and states the region’s grizzly bear population declined 40 percent from 2006 to 2013.
The study analyzed nine years of grizzly detection as well as capture data and found that the presence of humans has made the Elk Valley into an ecological trap.
The study found that most grizzly fatalities were caused by collisions with vehicles and trains as a result of Highway 3 and the railway.
The RDEK has also recommended against the rezoning. In an April 21 bylaw amendment application, it said the proposed subdivision is an example of “leapfrog development, which leads to difficulty with future servicing and infrastructure needs as densification continues and the city grows.”
It could also affect future plans to build a trail network to connect Mt. Fernie Park and Fernie Alpine Resort, said the statement.
The RDEK said there are many other properties already zoned for residential subdivision in the RDEK and the City of Fernie including The Cedars, Montane, and the Turcasso and Shoesmith subdivisions, which could mean an extra 85 lots in Area A and many more in the City of Fernie.