Muirfield area builders say they are hurting, due to policies surrounding the re-designation of the Muirfield area to a Direct Control District set out in Bylaw 2015-39.
While the bylaw allowed concessions for the builders to continue construction without sewage pipelines in place, it increases the time to gain a development permit from two weeks to six weeks or longer.
“When people come in to buy a home, the builders are promising to build that home. Then the builders have to wait two months to see if they can really build it,” said Jim Souza, spokesman for the builders group. “Maybe we can work collectively to fix a few things and if we can work together to do that without nonsense … we should do that.”
The Direct Control guidelines under the Municipal Governance Act require municipalities to advertise development permit requests, circulate the proposal to adjacent neighbours and allow a three-week time period for response from any persons opposed.
However, the old adage of time is money is applicable here, as the interest costs escalate the longer the builder has to hold off giving ownership to their buyers. Sales also can be lost, due to the longer periods of time before possession dates. A residence can be built in four weeks; delays add another month or more to possession dates.
Souza said it wasn’t clearly stated at previous meetings that the bylaw change that helped with the sewage treatment problem would impact the builders.
“I find it disturbing that builders might not be familiar with the discretionary building guidelines. Council was looking for a hammer for the developer to develop sanitary services,” said Gerry Melenka, Wheatland Country community planner, referring to the reason the Direct Control bylaw was put in place. “If you have no services, you shouldn’t be issuing development permits.”
Doug Whitney, builder for Douglas Homes, said he felt the hammer placed on the developer might have minimal impact, but the head of the nail is being hit dead on for builders.
“It affects our ability to make binding contracts,” said Whitney.
Some of the builders wondered if an exception to current practises could be made; for instance if they obtained waivers from neighbouring residents could the waiting period for responses be cut down.
Wheatland County Councillor Ben Armstrong said making allowance for just a few builders would not be fair to others.
“If we come back to this bylaw in six months and we don’t have anything [sewer services] to look at, we won’t be considering any approvals,” said Armstrong.
Souza said the area does have a sewer trucking contract in place until 2018, and the talks with the Town of Strathmore for pipeline approval are moving ahead rapidly.
The builders noted that bringing new homeowners into the community benefits the county in tax revenues. They said they have over three million dollars invested in Muirfield projects.
Wheatland County Reeve Glenn Koester pointed out that two development permits, one for Douglas Homes and one for Vanity Homes, were passed on June 21; and that in his memory to date, no development permits had ever been denied for the Muirfield area. It was suggested that the sooner the developer got the sanitary pipeline in place, the quicker council could change the bylaw.
Wheatland staff will draw up council schedule dates and the best timeline schedule for permit submission and distribute the information to the builders, so they might submit for permits in the best timely manner.