Parkland County residents blindsided by $22M church development in 'ecologically sensitive area'

Residents of Parkland County's Chickakoo Park say a multi-million dollar church development is threatening the peace and tranquility they've grown accustomed to.

With plenty of walking trails and wildlife, Parkland County describe Chickakoo Park as the perfect place for nature lovers. 

Now, with $22 million worth of construction to upgrade a modest church and retreat centre already underway, neighbours say they're only just now learning about it.    

"How can that be allowed when the impact is so close to this special park?" Genevieve Olivier wondered while being interviewed by CTV News Edmonton. "It is designated as an ecologically sensitive area."

The property belongs to the local Carmelite order, a religious group tied to the Catholic Church.

The church has used the current chapel and cabins for spiritual retreats for decades, but the site will soon feature a large new church, new overnight accommodations, and plenty of parking, including about 50 underground stalls.

"We thought that maybe they didn’t ask permission, and then that’s a whole different conversation," area resident Stuart Bendall told CTV News Edmonton, "but they did, and the county said yes!"

The project was approved in 2018 by county staff, without input from council.

“There’s gonna be an impact on the environment, whether it’s noise, extra people, are the roads wide enough? Like none of this has been considered - or seemingly none of this has been considered,” Bendall said.

The county says nearby residents were notified, and offered a chance to appeal the development permit in 2019, but no complaints were received.

“Every person I’ve spoken to is appalled that this was allowed to go forward to this degree,” Olivier told CTV News Edmonton.

Many residents only found out a few weeks ago when a notice was published in the free local newsletter, "Community Voice."

"It isn’t delivered to a lot of people. I don’t know why this notification wouldn’t have been in the Stony Plain Reporter," Parkland County resident Michael Northcott told CTV News Edmonton.

The latest notification was required by the province. The church has applied for a permit to draw up to 6,355 cubic metres of water per year, or roughly 4,400 litres per day from its well. That us the equivalent of about 26 homes.

“I’m on a cistern, I pay to have that water trucked out,” Olivier said, “I also pay my taxes, as a Parkland County resident. The church is exempt from paying taxes.”

Parkland County Mayor Rod Shaigec tells CTV News Edmonton he understands why some of his constituents are upset.

"They are concerned," he said. "This is their peace, and this is where they have their tranquility."

But, he says, the proper approval process was followed, and construction can’t be stopped, adding the project does have to follow standard environmental guidelines for things like runoff from the parking lot. 

"You know council does recognize and give the environment a lot of consideration," said Shaigec. "It’s one of the pillars in our strategic plan."

Alberta Environment Parks says an upcoming technical assessment for groundwater will examine if the area is environmentally sensitive. 

A public meeting to address the situation will be held on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, residents are hopeful the province can decline the church's water application. 

"We can’t stop the building, but we can ask that they don’t draw any water," said Olivier.

There is a municipal water line near the church property, according to Mayor Shaigec, yet the developer chose not to pay for a hookup.

CTV News Edmonton reached out to the Carmelite group for comment, but did not hear back before time of publishing.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson