This should be a different style post for all my readers. I haven’t done anything journalistic on this blog before, however I have to admit it is an interesting way to shoot so it is possible many more of these styles of posts will be popping up in the future.
We were out at our cabin in Lac Ste. Anne County (Alberta, Canada) on the weekend. With recent events in the area I thought taking a tour through the county might be a good idea. It has been a while since I had been out to see any of the developments in the County, and I wanted to see if my memory had recorded the situation accurately.
We decided to head toward the Alberta Beach area. Here we visited the development named “Windmill Harbour”. According to the County, Phase 1 was registered in 2009, which seems about right as the last time we were out there was about three years ago. It was as if time had stood still. We were greeted by welcoming open gates and a sign promising “new ownership”. I have heard rumours of the past of this development, but that really isn’t that important to this post, what is important is what we witnessed this day at the site. My husband, always one to be interested in real estate, decided to call the number. “Ring….ring…..ring………” No answer. No machine. Nothing.
So we progress in to see a closed Sales Office. This is Sunday afternoon. This is cabin country. This is when deals are made. If you are selling recreational property Saturday and Sunday are the days you make the sales….trust me…we own a couple of rec. properties.
At a closer look we see the sidewalk is shattered with no attempt for repair, trim is off the mobile used as a sales office and the development’s mail box has been thrown behind the mobile home. My observation is perhaps this development isn’t exactly up and running, even though it has been three years since I last drove past its gates.
I look down the deserted streets that are framed with flat bulldozed land. The land is decorated with weeds, poop and surveying flags. A lonely rusted fire hydrant stands at one end of a street with a suburban dream. An unfinished show home greets us with a ramshackle wooden walkway and a dumpster. My husband surmises as to what the fate of the show home was, he is in the construction industry. My observation is it isn’t finished. It isn’t open. It is as if NOTHING has changed in three years. Everything in nature was flattened for this “Florida-style” design. Habitat didn’t matter.
One person involved with a development just to the east of Windmill Harbour informed me that “birds will nest anywhere” and that he was the one with “logic”; apparently his deserted (kind of ) inland fake beach wasn’t attracting customers on this June afternoon….yet another well thought out development. I guess this is a consistent way that developers think, “birds will nest anywhere”, after all they have all the right in the world to annihilate the natural world in the pursuit of a fast buck. But my perception from this afternoon is the “fast buck” is perhaps not happening. Ringing out phone lines, closed sales offices, partially finished show homes (after 3 years!) and no sign of an actual customer’s home being built (again after 3 years) is not the sign of a development that is working. Was it really worth destroying the landscape and the natural world for this?
It’s funny, the first time we ever drove past this sign I knew the place would never make it. There was no way they were going to sell the lots. This is cabin country. People own out here to escape suburbia, to escape parking lots, to escape home owners associations, to escape a cookie cutter lifestyle. People in cabin country are there to watch nature, sit on a deck, listen to the birds, watch the stars and perhaps get away with wearing the ugliest t-shirt they own. I can not imagine what these developers are thinking. They have no clue of the market or why people are out in this area. They think “build and they will come”, but in Lac Ste. Anne County it isn’t exactly working out in favor of the developer. The fancy proposals and all their “tip toe through the tulips” wording really doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day it isn’t what people want. People don’t want the developments; it isn’t what this neck of the woods is about.
We have to ask ourselves, “Was is really worth destroying nature to end up with empty streets, bulldozed fields, a broken Sales Office, shattered sidewalks, a half-finished show home and a rusted fire hydrant?” But this is development here in Lac Ste. Anne County where my lovely little cabin is.
We decided to carry on to the town of Alberta Beach which is just minutes away from the Windmill Harbour development. Again it has probably been about 3 years since visiting the town even though it is reasonably close to our cabin. Alberta Beach fell off our radar a few years ago when we decided to do a walk or hike each weekend we were at the cabin. Walking or hiking just doesn’t happen in our county so we head to Parkland County, Pembina Provincial Park, or even as far as Edson, Hinton or Jasper. We love to hit the trail and our children love interpretive walks so we try to find places to go that keep everyone happy.
Alberta Beach was a shock. Everything was for sale……..cabins, land, businesses, buildings. Sign after sign after sign. It summed up the economic activity in the area. It summed up that money wasn’t being spent. It really made me wonder ” Why is the County allowing huge amounts of natural land to be ripped up when it is obvious to anyone who walks down the main road of Alberta Beach that there is no money to be spent here?” Senseless. If people aren’t buying a coffee, people aren’t going to buy a luxury gated community home. It was so obvious.
The town was empty. Sunday June 2nd, 2013, middle of the afternoon. One lady sat on a bench at the far end of the grassy public beach area, otherwise the whole area was deserted. The pier that I remember walking with my children no longer exists. Gone. Quiet. Empty. Sad. Confusing to think how anyone, developer or County, thought a development in this area could ever work. Well it didn’t….and the wildlife paid for such poorly made decisions.
My true highlight of the afternoon was the mini golf course at Alberta Beach. Perhaps it is the photographer in me, but there was something so enchanting yet sad about the mini golf course. Over grown. Speckled with weeds. Clearly no customers, no money, no hope. Why again are they building developments that are going to die in a place where no money is being spent?
We left Alberta Beach shaking our heads. A completely stalled development that appeared to my eye to be abandoned. A town for sale with no customers. A feeling that it will be at least another 3 years before we roam in this direction again. I wanted to see the development Windmill Harbour. I wanted to see if my memory had recorded it properly. My memory had clearly been wearing rose-coloured glasses. The way the development had wasted the landscape and then seemed to abandon all they had done was astonishing. Why start a project when the money in the area to spend is clearly not there? Senseless.
We carried on out of town and hit Highway 633, the road that runs almost directly from our cabin. I wasn’t expecting it, but we came across another development. (Okay I really wasn’t expecting it as my husband had to do a quick and fancy flip around turn when I shouted “Did you see that?……….STOP!!!” We have very different driving styles, but that is a whole different post, but I will say the score is equal when it comes to receiving out portrait in the mail.)
We stop in front of the sign and it says “Alberta Beach Estates”. We see bulldozed land, weeds, a pile of junk, a funky light post, a farm gate, a billboard and a show home located just next to Highway 633. The billboard shows a picture of a lake even though we are a considerable distance from the Lac Ste. Anne; the development is right on the side of the highway. No trees, no bushes, flat bald bulldozed land.
My husband can’t resist the temptation and instantly starts dialing on his iPhone. He is greeted by “Hello”. Nothing indicates he has reached “Alberta Beach Estates”, just “Hello”. My husband asks about details regarding the development, all he is given is that they will be “city sized lots with no overhead power lines”. No lot size is given. No price. No offer of a package of information. No request to get my husband’s details. Puzzling. At the end of the very quick conversation my husband is told the lots will be ready in August or September. That is in as little as 9 weeks. Wow. Surveying done and all utilities in, in as little as 9 weeks. I am amazed. It took six weeks to have a sub-floor, laminate and trim put in my basement, so I am stunned by the time frame. However my gut feeling isn’t so good. If people will not buy lots on a lake, why would they buy them right off Hwy 633? Why was this development given permission? More bulldozed land and another potentially bust development.
I am sure you are at this point thinking “What a weird way to spend a Sunday.”. You see there is a development proposed for our little cabin area so I wanted to do some research and see what success developments have had in Lac Ste. Anne County.
On May 16th, 2013 Lac Ste. Anne County sent a letter to us with a very brief description of the proposed development. The below map was also sent to us.
I knew that development on a natural lake was a bad idea, however I will just link you to my Western Grebe post if you want to get up to speed on that portion of the story.
However at around 1 a.m. on Friday May 31st, I was snooping around the County website where I stumbled across this detailed map of the development, plus all the details of the development.
There is a slight difference. None of the property owners (except for 3) that I spoke to had any idea of what was going on. Out of the three that knew, one was a real estate agent, one was selling their house with the agent I just mentioned, and one was a fellow that I could only describe as being explosively angry over the whole development. He was, shall we say , very, very unimpressed with the proposal.
Now I am not sure if you can see a slight difference between the two maps. I’ll give a quick outline. The top map shows three red dots. The detailed map shows 448 RV sites, 1.5 km of habitat ripped out, all dropped on the door step of the Summer Village of Southview , Alberta.
Now do you want to hear the punchline…………SOUTHVIEW WASN’T NOTIFIED. Convenient loophole to sneak something through…possibly…..but Southview wasn’t told because they are a “summer village” and not “county”. It doesn’t matter that they will be able to stand at the towns edge and see the RV park, hear the RV park, have their traffic diverted because of the RV park, have taxes go up because of the RV park (sewer lagoon and roads, infrastructure is a real concern), plus a whole list of other issues.
Now at this point I must declare I don’t own in Southview, but I am appalled that this community was not notified of what was proposed for their doorstep.
I am going to provide a quick visual version of the proposal:
I look at all this beautiful landscape, the life filled habitats, and the rural fields that define this part of the world and realize we are facing Lac Ste. Anne County making one more bad mistake by allowing another failing development to proceed. The County will give permission, the bulldozers will destroy, everything will be gone, and then the developers will discover that they have no customers and that the project is over budget. Here will be yet another space resembling Windmill Harbour. Seriously, if Windmill Harbour thought they could have bailed themselves out by changing the vision and going the RV park route they would have. But they haven’t.
This is cabin country. This is not a resort. We do not have sandy beaches like Mexico or Florida or California here. We have a natural lake. I am tired of developers sitting in their little offices looking at Google Earth for an untouched lake to destroy….yes, the word is “develop”. I am sorry, our lake, Lake Isle, is nicely “developed” already. It is developed with habitats that support 100’s of species. It is a scummy, slimey, smelly, weedy lake and it is fabulous for wildlife. Wildlife and nature is why ALL of us own in this area.
Developers, the first thing anyone does when they start a business is they IDENTIFY THEIR MARKET. None of you are doing it. None of you get it. You will go bust. It is proven, look at all the photographic evidence above, and I barely touched the county.
Now I am going to pass on a little F.Y.I. to any developers (or smart assed real estate people) that come across this blog post. The people who own and will invest out here love nature, love quiet, don’t want to be regulated, often have been coming generation after generation. If they want to stay in an RV they park it in a friend’s or family member’s driveway, because being out here is about family, friends and the experience. They are not going to park their RV in something that resembles a Walmart parking lot. Everything the Island View development states in their proposal is completely against what the people who own and invest in the area stand for.
I met some wonderful people this weekend and I wanted to share some of the most memorable comments:
“Ewwwwww the water is so gross, I wouldn’t swim in that!”
“The blue-green algae should be back pretty quick…shouldn’t it?
“Remember the e-coli scare.” (fond recollections)
“It was so cool the year we had the total fish-kill, the mother bird brought the dead fish up on my lawn so the babies could eat. It was soooooo sweet!”
and my all time favorite (love this one!!!!!!!)
“Remember when all the cow shit washed into the lake! They’ve fixed it now……………….I think.”