Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Draper Road and Dunvegan Gardens - A New Perspective

Ever have your mind made up about something, be very unwilling to change it, and then be confronted with some new information that makes you squirm and realize that you might well be wrong? Then you have to re-evaluate what you believed, and perhaps even reach a different conclusion. This happened to me recently, people, and it's about the situation with Dunvegan Gardens and the other residents of Draper Road.

I've written about the Dunvegan Gardens issue a few times in this blog, and was explaining it to a friend from another city. My friend, who is a very reasonable and rational sort, asked me if Dunvegan was in contravention of the zoning bylaw and if the complaining neighbours had reason to be upset. I had to honestly reply that I wasn't sure, because while I'd written about it I'd done so very much based only on my emotion and love of Dunvegan Gardens (and let's be clear - I am VERY fond of Dunvegan and have shopped there since my arrival in this city). I decided it was time to see what I could learn about the position of the other Draper Road residents, and to achieve this I contacted Andrew Thorne. Mr. Thorne is a local lawyer and an individual who, for better or worse, has become somewhat of a spokesman for the Draper Road residents. Even though he had no real need to speak to me he was kind enough to agree to do so, and we spoke last week about the situation as seen by the residents who have become unhappy with Dunvegan Gardens.

I could go into a lot of details as I learned a tremendous amount during our discussion, but some points are simply more pertinent than others. The biggest point is that the residents of Draper Road have been subjected to "creeping industrialization" of the area - meaning that slowly over time small businesses on Draper have been ramping up their activities until they no longer adhere to the zoning bylaw applicable to Draper Road. That zoning bylaw is the main point of contention. It states that Draper Road is "residential and small holdings/agricultural" - meaning residences, greenhouses, market gardens, and keeping of small numbers of livestock is permissible. Larger operations, such as those representing more industrial occupations, are not.

Dunvegan Gardens have expanded their operations over the years since they purchased the property on Draper. It had started as a small market garden under the previous owners, but upon sale to the new owners had become more diverse. They had begun to conduct their landscaping business from the Draper Road property, meaning a very significant increase in large vehicle traffic to and from the gardens. Noise became a serious issue, with activity starting at 6:30 AM and going all day. Trucks of all sorts and sizes began to traverse a road ill-prepared for such traffic, and this combined with the other activities began to irritate the other neighbours as it became clear to them that this was no longer a small greenhouse business but rather a large-scale landscaping endeavour.

For a long time the other residents of Draper Road tolerated the noise, dust from the road traffic, and other inconveniences. Things came to a head, though, when the owner of Dunvegan Gardens applied to amend the zoning bylaw to allow larger scale operations on his property, apparently including storage of RVs, tractor trailers, and U-Haul vehicles. The residents had had enough. They appealed to the city to enforce the current zoning bylaw, and the city agreed. The city determined that the gardens were now conducting a larger-scale operation than is allowed by the zoning bylaw, and they moved to curtail those activities.

For myself I compared it to this : Imagine you move into an area zoned for residences and small, home-based businesses. Your neighbour runs a small business supplying baking to a few people in the city. There is some traffic, and the occasional delivery truck, but it's relatively small scale and it adheres to the zoning. The neighbour decides to retire and sells her business to another owner, and the new owner decides to supply a few local restaurants with baking. This means more traffic and noise and more inconvenience, but you tolerate it because you know it is a valued business (and hey, sometimes you even buy baking there, too). Over time the home-based bakery really picks up steam, though, and you notice a lot more traffic. It starts earlier and goes later, too, with deliveries and pick ups. One day you discover the neighbour is about to embark on supplying a very large chain of restaurants with all their baking needs, and suddenly there are tractor trailers doing deliveries and pick-ups 7 days a week from 6:30 am until late into the day. It's clear this is no longer a small home-based business. What do you do when you can no longer stand the noise and the traffic and the headaches?

You take it to the city, that's what you do, and that is what the Draper Road Society, representing the Draper Road residents, has done. They had simply had enough. It wasn't just Andrew Thorne (as has been told to me by several people, and which is clearly the misunderstanding many have), it was several residents of Draper Road. It wasn't because they want Dunvegan Gardens shut down (again, something I've heard claimed) but rather because they want to enjoy their homes and properties, too, and expect others to adhere to the zoning bylaws to allow them to do so. They want to ensure their property values will not be impacted by the area becoming industrialized. They want to live in peaceful harmony, a harmony that might include a greenhouse business but not one that includes thousands of dump trucks and heavy vehicle traffic.

This week's issue of the Connect has a terrific story on this issue, and it brought to light many of the points Mr. Thorne expressed when he spoke to me. I was very pleased a local media outlet has covered the story with a bit more depth and I read the article with interest. In that article one of the points made by Brad Friesen, owner of Dunvegan Gardens, troubled me. He said that things wouldn't be an issue in 2-3 years when the Draper Road road renovation is done and  it is four lanes wide, as then the traffic issues would disappear. All I could think was "so, the Draper Road residents should just suck it up for the next 2-3 years and see their enjoyment of their properties diminished?". That doesn't seem a reasonable expectation. If you think of my comparison above it's like being told that you only have to tolerate the bakery situation for 2-3 years because by then the wall between you and the bakery will be finished. Two or three years is a long time to accept a situation you find intolerable, people, especially when it's been determined by the authorities that the business is in contravention of the zoning.

Look, I have to be honest. I love Dunvegan Gardens. I was reluctant to accept that there might not be room for compromise, and that, just maybe, the Draper Road residents had good reasons to be unhappy. I didn't want to see that side. I just wanted to be able to enjoy the greenhouse, buy my flowers, and be happy. Should my happiness come at the cost of the other residents of Draper Road who get to listen to heavy truck traffic all day and breathe in the dust the trucks kick up on that road? It's easy enough to say yes - but then I don't live on Draper Road and it's not my life being affected. If it were I can't help but think that I would be pretty displeased at being told to just tolerate it or to find compromise because it benefits other people (people who incidentally don't have to tolerate the problems). It's not an easy situation but there it is. I know this blog post won't be a popular one, and I know that there are many who won't be happy with my thoughts on the issue. I'm not happy, either, but sometimes recognizing reality isn't a happy thing. This seems to be one of those times.

1 comment:

  1. I don't live anywhere near the area but I wonder what's stopping the owners from having a small garden centre there and operating the landscaping business from a different location.