Dozens at RMWB council meeting argue for, against Draper events centre

Mayor Sandy Bowman said the motion had the largest list of registered delegates of this council term.

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Council has approved unanimously a zoning amendment impacting the proponents of the River’s Edge Events Centre and Resort. If approved, the business will operate in a preexisting building along the Clearwater River in Draper.

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The motion proposed combined two different lots that were zoned differently into one common zone. The goal for the developers is to open a small, family resort managed by a live-in property manager.

Mayor Sandy Bowman clarified to councillors and speakers that the motion was not debating if the events centre should exist or if the developers had been compliant with regulations.

Amanda Haitas, the RMWB’s senior manager of planning and development, confirmed to Bowman that the applicants and residents can appeal permitting and application decisions to the Subdivision and Appeal Board.

Haitas told council approving the zoning change would not guarantee the business’s development application will be approved.

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L-R: Kimberly Jean and Tessa Vesak speak to RMWB council in favour of a land-use bylaw amendment for the proposed River’s Edge Events Centre and Resort in Draper at a RMWB council meeting on June 25, 2024. Screenshot/RMWB’s YouTube page

Largest list of delegates speak at a recent council meeting

Plenty of people wanted to speak for or against the project. Bowman said the motion had the largest list of registered delegates of this council term. He mentioned 36 people had registered to speak to council at the meeting. There were also 40 written submissions in favour of the amendment.

Fourteen speakers spoke in favour of the amendment, most of whom represented local businesses and non-profits, They argued the centre is in a beautiful location that will fill a local void in available and affordable events spaces.

“As a business owner as well, we have tried to find venues in this community to host such items as a celebration of life, a memorial service, even a traditional funeral, only to be turned away, and because people are not available and they want to do something other than a church setting,” said resident Robert Parmenter.

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Amber Fort, executive director of Pastew Place Detoxification Centre, said River’s Edge allows hosts to bring their own foods and beverages. Some venues in Fort McMurray require hosts to buy from preferred vendors, she said.

“River’s Edge represents an opportunity to significantly enhance the social, cultural and economic fabric of Fort McMurray,” she said. “It addresses a clear need for more community gathering spaces, offers crucial support to not-for-profits and provides a flexible, cost-effective venue option for residents.”

Mat Espinoza speaks to RMWB council against a land-use bylaw amendment while his daughter, Sienna, holds a map of homeowners he says are also opponents at a RMWB council meeting on June 25, 2024. Screenshot/RMWB’s YouTube page

Draper residents speak out against project

Only one Draper resident spoke in favour of the amendment, but was concerned the business will cause an increase in traffic. Draper has no sidewalks, he pointed out.

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But another 12 Draper residents argued passionately against the centre. They argued it would ruin the isolated and quiet nature of Draper, which attracted many residents of the community. There were concerns about impacts from construction and slope stability. Others alleged developers broke municipal permitting procedures and existing land-use bylaws, and had failed to properly consult the people of Draper.

Mat Espinoza pointed out most speakers supporting the centre did not live in Draper. His daughter, Sienna, held a map of homes he said are owned by people opposed to the amendment.

“Everyone who surrounds this property is deeply upset and they do not support this land use bylaw amendment,” he said.

Resident Dale Cooper told council his family was first to settle the Draper area and has been in the community for four generations.

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He questioned the quality of consultation that developers had done with the public, and wondered if they had spoken with the Clearwater River Heritage Group and local Indigenous communities. He also worried about the economic impact to the Royal Canadian Legion in Waterways.

“I, too, would like it to be known that my wife and I have also spent a lot of money, perhaps even more so proportionally to our incomes, when we built our home in Draper 28 years ago to live in a quiet community. We and many others would like to keep it that way,” said Cooper.

“Just because the Jeans have decided not to call Draper their home anymore and enjoy the quiet country residential lifestyle and unique character of Draper doesn’t mean that the rest of us have.”

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Many residents opposed to the centre criticized Energy Minister Brian Jean, who is one of the developers of the site, and his family by name.

Kimberly Jean, who represented River’s Edge, denied they had violated any municipal bylaws or procedures, and said they had been consulting regularly with the public.

She dismissed claims they had been hit with stop-work orders and said Espinoza’s findings did not match her own experiences speaking with people. The property has only been used so far for “personal, normal, residential uses to this point,” said Jean, and is not currently being used as an events centre.

“The facts are that administration has stated that consolidation of zoning is normal and ideal. The entire property is not recommended to be zoned country-residential due to elevation considerations,” said Jean.

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Tessa Vesak, who spoke with Jean, pointed out the Alberta government has identified Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo as needing tourism development.

“Our intention for this land use bylaw amendment is to enable us to provide a beautiful space that brings people back together after having been through so much,” said Vesak. “By offering local options for family, events, tourism and outdoor recreation, we plan to do our part in building a stronger, better Fort McMurray for all.”

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