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Overlay approved, clearing way for simpler rebuild for most residents

Last Updated Sep 27, 2016 at 9:54 pm MDT

Demolition work under way at the site of a former home in Beacon Hill. August 31, 2016. Sarah Anderson/REPORTER

Council has unanimously approved the second and third readings of a by-law overlay amendment that will have a significant positive impact for many residents whose homes were destroyed in the wildfire.

The change will affect rebuilding in Stone Creek, Wood Buffalo, Abasand, Beacon Hill, and the areas of Waterways that are above the flood hazard area. If rebuilding is approved within the flood zone at next week’s council meeting then the overlay will take effect in those areas as well.

The overlay amendment removes restrictions put in place back in 2007 on the size of a footprint of a home that were needed at the time because of concerns with the sewer system that are no longer relevant. Making the change now ensures people can rebuild their homes to the same footprint they were before the fire where in some cases that wouldn’t be possible the way the by-law is currently written.

As long as the home is within the same footprint and has no adverse effects on the neighbouring property, Jamie Doyle with Planning and Development, said the proposal will be considered.

“That’s number one: we can rebuild. That means everybody can go back and build what they had but, quite frankly, if we stop there that’s not good enough,” said Terry Cooper.

Cooper is a Fort McMurray lawyer who has been working with the Rebuild Abasand Committee, a community group working on solutions for the rebuild that actually helped draft the overlay and bring it to council.

Cooper advocated for the changes to the amendment so that homeowners of duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes can consider building free-standing, single-family homes should one or all of their neighbours be unwilling or unable to rebuild. Those changes were approved unanimously.

“It opens the doors wide open. Our analysis, when we talked to people, the vast majority of Abasand residents that we polled wanted to go to detached homes if they could. Over 70 per cent,” said Cooper. “The overlay opens the door and protects people.”

“The feedback that we have been getting when we reached out to the community to tell them about how the overlay was going to work and the options they would have, we’ve had tremendously positive feedback,” said Cooper. “‘Finally I know what I can do.’ ‘Finally I can move forward.’ It’s not going to make everybody happy. There will be some people that want to rebuild a patio home and no one wants to rebuild a patio home with them, there will be some people on a narrow lot that would prefer a duplex because it gives them a bigger side yard and, perhaps, their neighbour doesn’t want to be in a duplex situation but, given what we’ve been faced with since May, to give the opportunity for most people to move forward, it’s excellent.”

The amendment as changed at second reading also allows for some creative solutions and upgrades to some homes. One of the intentions of the recovery process is to not only restore homes to their previous state but to make improvements in green energy efficiency, fire smart homes, beautification and other steps. This overlay amendment will allow for those kinds of improvements.

This change also allows the owners of duplexes and multi-plexes to consider building free-standing, single-family homes on lots that would normally be too small to house them if their neighbour with whom they previously shared a wall is unable or unwilling to rebuild because of insurance limitations, because they’ve chosen a buy-out option, or because the neighbours cannot agree on a builder.

The details of this overlay amendment and what it will mean for residents looking to rebuild will be the subject of this week’s Here for You engagement session at Shell Place. There will be experts available to answer questions about the implications of the by-law for you and your rebuild.

Staff from the Planning and Development department have offered to help homeowners with their development permit applications at any time during regular office hours at the Timberlea Landing RMWB location at 309 Powder Drive.

Doyle said that, within reason, his team is working to accommodate the development choices people are making to rebuild their lives following the fire. He said there is a recognition there is room for overall improvements and to make people’s lives easier by working with them to approve their designs for their rebuilt homes.

Learn more about the permits required at rmwb.ca/planning.