Motocross in Meadow Valley

Update 3 November: The RDOS has received a detailed legal review of this situation and has concluded that a motocross track DOES violate the RDOS's existing AG3 zoning bylaw.  The owner has been advised of this.

The RDOS has received numerous complaints about the construction of a motocross track on Agricultural Land Reserve farmland in Meadow Valley.

The RDOS generally has very limited control over what people do on their own land.  However, there are two existing bylaws that are relevant in this situation and a new bylaw that will be relevant in the future:

  1. Noise: Area F has a noise bylaw (see here).  It is not a very good bylaw in my view--very difficult to interpret. In practice enforcement seems to be most effective after hours.  Also, machinery on ALR land is a bit of a grey area.
  2. Land use: The RDOS does impose some restrictions on land use, as does the act governing the ALR.  For example, a non-farm commercial operation of any type is not permitted.  However, there is nothing in the land use bylaws to prevent people from burning around their own property on motorbikes.  "Their own property" part of this statement implies a restriction to the people who live on the property.  A large number of non-residents using the track moves it into the realm of a commercial operation.  This would be prohibited.
  3. Environmentally Sensitive land:  The RDOS has recently undertaken the development of an Environmental Sensitive Development Permit bylaw (see here).  The purpose of the bylaw is to create constraints on the disturbance of land considered "environmentally sensitive".  It is precisely situations such as this that led the RDOS to propose an additional layer of red tape.  However, this bylaw is still in the development stage and has not yet been enacted.  As such, it has no bearing on this issue.

The bottom line is this: the development of a motorcross track in Meadow Valley is not, as it now stands, a violation of any RDOS bylaw.  If it turns out to be a commercial operation or if the user base extends beyond immediate friends and family (so that its intensity of usage is similar to that of a commercial operation) then the RDOS and ALC will become involved.

Neighborhoods: 

Comments

Michael

I visited this sight today.  It is very obvious that the property owner is spending a great deal of money to build this track.  It would appear that the bylaws pertaining to this issue are pretty vague and as they do not appear to be clear in defining issues which in my mind makes them difficult if not almost impossible to enforce.

You state that there is nothing that prevents people from burning around their own properties.  I cant say that I disagree with that in principle I guess.  But when some one appears to be spending tens of thousands of dollars creating a dedicated track to facilitate this burning around does it not take everything to an other level? When you state that if  a large number of non residents start using the track it would become a commercial endeavor and it would be stopped. What defines a a large number?  Is it spelled out exactly in the bylaws and ALC regulations? How do you define  residents? People that live on the property? People who are immediately  adjacent neighbors? People that live within a 10 km radius of  this track? If  is not clearly defined in regulations and bylaws how can people reasonably expect that part of the by laws could or would be enforced.  When a property owner in effect undertakes work on his or her property that in effect makes it unusable for agricultural purposes have they not in fact done something that contravenes the purpose or intent of the regulations and bylaws? I  wonder about the rights of the adjacent property owners who have been conducting bona fide agricultural activities on their properties some for decades. Has any one considered in this whole debate how the noise and dust might effect their livestock and agricultural undertakings? Don't they have a right to farm as they have for decades?  Also as always arises in disputes like this, might this not potentially affect their property value from a resale perspective? It is clear that the rights of the people building this track appear to being  protected.  What about those who have been peacefully farming in this area for decades?  Don't they have rights too?

Sometimes in local government I draw a comparison with the "suicide bomber" problem.  The first suicide bomber missions (including the 9-11 attacks) easily defeated airline security measures because the airlines and regulators assumed individual rationality.  For example, rules forbid passengers from putting an unattended suitcase on an airplane because such a suitcase could contain a bomb.  However, if the suitcase was attended (that is, the passenger who owned the suitcase also got on the plane) then everything was assumed to be okay.  Why would someone knowingly get on a plane that is going to blow up...?

We have seen a few land uses recently that fit (obviously in a less dramatic way) this pattern: Regulators like the RDOS simply did not anticipate the problem.  For example, on the West Bench we have seen an uptick in the construction of huge "monster garage/workshops".  The RDOS has no restrictions against such buildings because no one ever anticipated that someone would spend a lot of money for a rural residential lot with an expensive house on it and then hide the house with an industrial building.

This one seems a bit the same.  I appreciate that agricultural land is not worth what it once was, but I am still a bit surprised that someone would purchase such a large parcel of agricultural land for a non-productive (that is, personal) use.  The RDOS is covered with scrubby, unproductive land in the middle of nowhere that offers better privacy at a much lower price per acre.  In short, we do not have bylaws on the books that require land to be used at it highest and best use because we more or less assume that market forces and individual rationality will push it in that direction anyway.

The alternative is that the RDOS gets into the specific bylaw business.  We will have to start imaging all sorts of potentially offensive uses (the possibilities are limitless) and writing them into the bylaws.  Because the bottom line is this: Unless an existing bylaw specifically prohibits an activity, that activity is permitted.  No government can go around after the fact applying new prohibitions (whether the vast majority thinks it is a good idea or not).  We have to work with the bylaws we have.

When you state that if  a large number of non residents start using the track it would become a commercial endeavor and it would be stopped. What defines a a large number? 

How this might play out is the following:

  1. Residents complain about too many riders/too much noise.
  2. If the RDOS bylaw enforcement official agrees, a ticket (or tickets) are issued to the property owner.
  3. Ultimately enforcement (e.g., payment of fines) depends on the courts.  So naturally evidence of "unreasonable" levels of personal use would be useful if the RDOS ever ended up in court.  If you see something unreasonable, please snap a photo or a short video and send it along to the RDOS bylaw enforcement group.

Roza, the RDOS Bylaw Enforcement Coordinator, sent the following email to a resident regarding the motocross track in Meadow Valley.  I think it provides a pretty clear summary of the issues.  I have highlighted a few issues that I think are critical.


[...] With respect to the track that is being constructed at 833 Fish Lake Road, construction of a track for personal use of the property owner is permitted as an “accessory use” to a dwelling. We are in the process of preparing a letter to the property owner advising that the track can‘t be used until such time that a building permit has been issued to construct (or place) a home on the property. Once the permit is issued, the track can be used. The RDOS Planning Technician and myself were at the property on Friday afternoon and spoke with the property owner. He has been advised of our position and what he is required to do. We anticipate that he will be making application for a building permit in the very near future.

With respect to the Noise Bylaw, if the noise is generated by a use that is permitted under land use the owner has a right to conduct that use. This means that the track can be used during reasonable hours, like during the day. However, and as an example of a contravention of the Noise Bylaw, if the motor bike doesn’t have a muffler, then we would be in a position to apply the bylaw.

[...] If you find the noise of the motor bike disturbing, please contact our Bylaw Enforcement Officer at 250-492-0911 while the bike is being used so he can evaluate the noise to determine if it can be considered as a contravention of the Noise Bylaw.

As a side note, we advise further that the Provincial Agricultural Land Commission (ALC)  has been contacted and their position is that the construction of this moto cross track is permitted on farm land. It is our understanding that several neighbours have contacted the ALC and have provided pictures; however, the Commission maintains their position that the use is permitted and will not harm the agricultural capability of the property.

A few residents of Meadow Valley have asked the RDOS to look into contraventions of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) Act. The ALC has its own compliance and enforcement process and these processes are triggered by formal complaints.  Please see here for more information about submitting a complaint to the ALC.

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