Paradise Just Down the Road or Legal Quagmire?

This is an important write up for all town residents. How the Town of Turner Valley manages past, current and future developers has a very significant affect on our taxes. This is a news report written by one of our members Garth Henderson.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Paradise Just Down the Road or Legal Quagmire?

I live in the Seclusion Valley subdivision in the northeast corner of Turner Valley. It’s a beautiful part of town comprising about fifty five lots with the final half dozen or so homes nearing completion. The majority of homes in the area (about 45) are completed and occupied though some are still new enough to be in a state where building deficiencies need to be or are still being addressed.  My wife and I moved in 3 and half years ago from the mountain town of Canmore, intending to make this our place to retire in the relative peace and quiet of small town Alberta.

When we bought the house, most of the subdivision was still a construction zone. We assumed (in retrospect we were perhaps naïve) that the lumpy streets, damaged sidewalks, construction waste and piles of backfill would be dealt with expeditiously. Surely with full occupancy close at hand, including families with small children, the developers would take serious steps to mitigate the growing amounts of dirt, debris and obstructions. We were wrong. As we settled in, it became more than evident that virtually no priority was being given by the developers to preserving, protecting and/or maintaining the basic infrastructure. Further, there was no real evidence that the town administration was applying any oversight to the construction activities and lapses in due care on the part of contractors. Among other abuses, heavy vehicles including steel tracked excavators continued to traverse the already crumbling sidewalks. Rag tag, worn out debris filters which were obviously years old were doing nothing to prevent the growing amounts of dirt and debris settling in the sewer system from unfiltered storm drains in the street. (Minimal summer street cleaning in the past 3 years to collect the dirt and sediment around the storm drains – maybe once after a complaint.)

As the months rolled on we became more than a little aware that the majority of the home owners in our neighbourhood were becoming increasingly unhappy. The apparent lack of attention being paid by town administration to the sorry state of construction and maintenance affairs in the subdivision was starting to boil. This, especially given the very high property taxes being paid for the privilege of living in Seclusion Valley. Still most of the grumbling seemed to remain under the surface, neighbour to neighbour or perhaps individuals making random complaints to town administration. Rumours began to surface about who was responsible for what, initial developer gone bankrupt, current developer operating on a post-bankruptcy deal reached with the town – nobody seemed to know for sure what was going on.  With no regular status or progress reports forthcoming from town administration and really nothing happening for months to mitigate perceived issues, this was quite obviously a breeding ground for resident discontent. One can only assume that the town’s long-standing silence on the matter indicated that they were oblivious to the problems. Wrong again.

I was taken by surprise when, at the beginning of this week, a 3 page Notice of Appeal Hearing appeared in my mail box from The Town of Turner Valley Inter-municipal Subdivision and Development Appeal Board. This was a notice of an Appeal Hearing to be held today, Friday, May 25, 2018 at 10am. The notice was a formal document giving no real information about what the appeal was about other than to say that the appellant/developer, Carolina Homes Inc. was seeking to appeal a stop work order issued by the Town of Turner Valley to cease work on a number of addresses in Seclusion Valley. The notice was purportedly sent out to all residents in Seclusion Valley and it included the phrase “Any person who deems he or she may be affected by the appeal has a right to be heard at the hearing.” This arguably short notice to residents included a paragraph about the relevant documents related to the appeal being on file at the Municipal Office.  Anyone wanting to know what this whole thing was about, could call the Appeal Board Clerk to “arrange a time to review the file”. The Notice further included a map showing all the properties in Seclusion Valley as “Properties to be notified”. (Incidentally, some residents did not receive the notice.)

Understandably, this out of the blue appeal notice piqued a great deal of interest in the neighbourhood about what was going on between the Town and Carolina Homes – sounds serious. Predictably, it was standing room only at council chambers at the appointed hour with a notable buzz of anticipation. The meeting was brought to order and 3 members of the Appeal board were introduced by name only. The Chair then asked a lawyer from Carolina Homes’ law firm to address the Board. This lawyer asked for an adjournment based on the fact that the particular lawyer responsible for Carolina Homes Inc. was not available. The Chairperson accepted this and promptly adjourned the meeting. In doing this the Chair announced that the appeal would now be heard June 8 – done like dinner in less than 5 minutes.

Totally predictable to any organizer who would have thought this fiasco through, the floor erupted in consternation at the summary adjournment (many had taken time off work to attend).   Formality and Roberts Rules of Order promptly flew out the window as several individuals shouted down the chairperson in sheer outrage and frustration.  It was a gong show. The MacLeod Law representative and board members beat a hasty retreat while the Town’s planning department official was left to field a myriad of questions from understandably confused, upset and concerned residents.  Reassurances were given that come June 8 the appeal would in fact go forward as all necessary representatives would be in attendance at that time – cold comfort for those that had taken the time to be in attendance today hoping to make presentations.  People have undoubtedly left the meeting with a lot of misunderstanding about what the coming appeal will actually achieve relative to their expectations and concerns. There is clear confusion about the process

It didn’t have to be this way. Town administration could have done a better and more timely job of keeping residents of Seclusion Valley informed about the project’s status. Acknowledging that there are serious unresolved infrastructure issues in the subdivision as well as a breakdown of understandings between the town and the developer is a clear starting point for managing home owner’s expectations and alleviating stress and concerns about what is likely to happen.  Public hearings/presentations would be helpful as the process progresses. In the end there just has to be better communication as to what is going on. There should be no question in anyone’s mind that this whole Seclusion Valley debacle is far from over and that there is likely to be a serious legal battle ahead with equally serious consequences for all the rate payers of Turner Valley.

Respectfully, Garth Henderson , Seclusion Valley Resident.

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