by Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on Tuesday November 15 2022
The regional district is proposing the installation of a 30-metre wide development permit area on the shores of Kootenay Lake and it caused some concern with those already living along the lake.
Regional District of Central Kootenay staff are responding to the need to mitigate negative impacts to the riparian areas — wetlands adjacent to rivers, streams or lakes — surrounding Kootenay Lake with a Kootenay Lake Development Permit Area Review Project.
The current development permit area (DPA) is inconsistent, according to RDCK staff and environmental professionals, leading to potential environmental problems and encroachment of wildlife habitat in the ecology of the lake.
In fact, in areas where the DPA was less than 30 metres from the waters’ edge, there has been a permanent loss of riparian habitat, according to RDCK staff reports.
“Because of these losses, staff have proposed a 30-metre-wide DPA — that is, a larger area that the professional is looking at — to better account for potential impacts and slow the loss of riparian habitat,” wrote RDCK project manager Corey Scott in his report on the DPA. “A 30-metre-wide DPA would not prohibit development within 30 metres of the lake. Instead, it would ensure that riparian habitat values are better understood before development takes place.”
Although many residents are concerned about the effect a DPA could have on their existing homes and structures — as expressed last week in two public engagement updates hosted by the RDCK — a DPA is different from a setback. A setback is an area where a building or certain types of land uses are prohibited.
Setbacks from Kootenay Lake are based on the recommendations of development activity.
“The DPA is the area that the professionals look at in making their recommendations for a setback and mitigating potential negative impacts to the riparian areas surrounding Kootenay Lake,” Scott noted in an RDCK FAQ on the development permit area.
“Building and other development activities can still take place within the DPA, but must meet the guidelines to ensure negative impacts are avoided.”
The DPA is a safeguard for the environment, a check and balance before development takes place, but it does not prohibit development. An environmental DPA is an area where development activity must follow certain guidelines to ensure it will not negatively impact the natural environment, including sensitive ecosystems and biodiversity.
Scott said 30 m. is the standard “riparian assessment area” that professionals examine in most parts of the province, and is based on environmental best practices.
In order for development to take place, a development permit is required in a DPA prior to undertaking any development activities.
Environmental DPAs ensure habitat values present on a piece of land are understood and mitigate any potential negative impacts before development activity takes place.
“The intention of Environmental DPAs is to protect the natural areas surrounding Kootenay Lake in order to reduce the impacts of development on the lake,” said Scott in his review. “Ideally, riparian areas would be avoided altogether in development. However, this would be incredibly difficult to do because of how land near Kootenay Lake was developed in the past.”
The expectations for development along Kootenay Lake’s shoreline will not change or make getting a permit harder, said Scott.
“The review seeks to better capture the expectations for shoreline development in the DPA guidelines to be more transparent,” he said.
Scott said the Kootenay Lake DPA review has two primary goals:
• provide greater clarity in the development guidelines and exemptions to make them more user-friendly; and
• align the DPAs along Kootenay Lake with best management practices, the Kootenay Lake Shoreline Guidance Document, and resident values.
Above and below
The RDCK is responsible for all land above the “present natural boundary” of a watercourse and the provincial and federal government is responsible for all land below it.
The B.C. Land Act says a present natural boundary is a “visible high water mark of any lake, river, stream or other body of water where the presence and action of the water are so common and usual, and so long continued in all ordinary years, as to mark on the soil of the bed of the body of water a character distinct from that of its banks, in vegetation, as well as in the nature of the soil itself.”
One of the ways to identify the boundary is by a change in vegetation.
The province is involved for all work related to building a dock, placing a buoy, removing an old structure near the water’s edge or doing anything else that would disturb the shoreline.
The province and the regional district (DPA) would be together if there is the removal of old structures — requiring disturbance both above and below the present natural boundary.
When an area requires special treatment or consideration before development a DPA is designated, containing specific development policies and guidelines to ensure that new development in that area is consistent with the objectives outlined within an Official Community Plan (OCP).
“DPAs can be created to support the OCP objectives of protecting the natural environment, including sensitive ecosystems and biodiversity, and protecting developments from hazardous conditions in the environment — such as flooding, erosion, land slip, rock falls and fire hazards,” noted Scott. “Development permits can also be created to support other OCP objectives for industrial, commercial, and multi-family residential development.”
What it means for a property owner within a DPA is that a development permit would be needed before a building permit would be issued or development took place. In addition, all work would have to be in accordance with the conditions of the development permit unless exempted.
Development activity within an environmental DPA — unless exempt — must first be reviewed by a qualified environmental professional or registered professional biologist.
“The professional will evaluate the activity and propose a set of recommendations and mitigation options to ensure that development will take place in a way that is sensitive to the natural environment,” Scott said in his DPA review report.
DPA or not DPA
Development activities that require a development permit include:
• removal, alteration, disruption or destruction of vegetation;
• disturbance of soils;
• construction or erection of buildings and structures;
• creation of non-structural impervious or semi-impervious surfaces (such as patios or parking areas);
• flood protection works;
• construction of roads, trails, docks, wharves and bridges;
• provision and maintenance of sewer and water services;
• development of drainage systems;
• development of utility corridors (such as water or power lines); and
The following activities are currently exempt from a development permit:
• existing construction, alteration, addition, repair, demolition and maintenance of farm buildings, and agricultural activities including clearing of land for agricultural purposes;
• existing institutional development containing no residential, commercial or industrial use;
• construction, renovation, or repair of a permanent structure if the structure remains on an existing foundation in the development permit area. If the foundation is moved or extended a development permit is required;
• where the conditions of the DPA have already been met; and
• when a development permit has already been issued for the project and addresses all proposed development activities in the DPA.