By Lethbridge Herald on October 22, 2020.
City council has unanimously approved a land-use bylaw change to pave the way for a new potential condo development downtown, coulee-side, near the High Level Bridge just off of Scenic Drive.
Council approved the change despite some lingering concerns about potential liability associated with an old coal mine located in that area and setback concerns expressed by the railway.
The new six-storey, 341-unit condo would be located essentially between current condos Rio Vista and The View farther back on the coulees close to the head of the CP Railway bridge.
During Monday’s public hearing, council heard concerns from residents of the existing condos that the new development would negatively affect their views of the coulee, and received a letter from Canadian Pacific Railway expressing its concerns the new development may be too close to the rail tracks and bridge.
“Please be made aware that Canadian Pacific Railway is not in favour of residential uses adjacent to our right-of-way as this land use is not compatible with railway operations,” the CPR letter reads in part. “The health, safety and welfare of future residents could be adversely affected by railway activities. Should any proposed residential subdivision application adjacent to railway right of way receive approval, Canadian Pacific Railway requests that all recommended guidelines are considered as it relates to residential development adjacent to the CPR.”
According to City of Lethbridge community planner, Ross Kilgour, the developer has met and exceeded the 30-metre setback right-of-way guidelines laid out by the railway.
The new development would be set back 53 metres from the right-of-way, and 72 metres from the railway itself at its closest point, farther back from the rails than existing condos located nearby.
Coun. Belinda Crowson then put on her historian hat during the hearing to raise another point of potential concern: the fact the old Galt Mine 1 coal mine shaft is located directly under the proposed development site.
“I know there was a geotechnical survey done,” said Crowson, “but we are sitting there on Galt Mine 1, the first shaft mine and the old air shaft, and what if it is wrong? Does the City bear any liability or would liability only be for the developer if a potential hazard happens we couldn’t foresee because of that mine?”
Earlier in the public hearing developer Garry Renkema had told councillors his architects had engaged an engineer to study that question thoroughly, and the engineer had given the opinion there was no risk to the development based on the underlying old mining structures.
However, Mayor Chris Spearman sought further clarity on the liability question voiced by Crowson from City solicitor Brian Loewen.
“The proponents did say they engaged an engineer who had given an opinion,” stated Spearman, “but I think the clarification Coun. Crowson’s asking is: that is their engineer, are we protected as a municipal entity?”
“It would depend precisely on the engineer’s opinion and that we can rely upon it,” answered Loewen. “I assume we can, and to that extent that engineer’s insurance would provide some backup.”
Loewen said there was never a guarantee of 100 per cent protection for any municipality in any liability case when potential lawsuits arise.
“There is not really any way to eliminate any risk where the City has a theoretical possibility of liability,” he confirmed.
In the end, councillors seemed to agree the tangible benefits to the community in building such a condo facility outweighed any remote theoretical risks associated with the old mine shaft — voting unanimously to change the land-use bylaw in that area of the city to allow the development to proceed to the next level.
“I think it is an exciting project,” stated Coun. Ryan Parker, who was on the same page as the other councillors who spoke in favour. “With all this kind of pessimism in the community it is amazing to see a project like this get built in our community. It is exciting. And I want to take the time to thank the people who have invested in this. I think it is very visionary.”
Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter