A rural landowner is left feeling an industrial strength pinch after a neighbouring wood products company is making a pitch to move in next door.
Since the early 1970’s Jim Seminiuk and wife Jean have raised two children and many animals on two acres of tranquil pasture, located just outside Fruitvale in Area A, adjacent to ATCO Wood Products on Hepburn Drive.
“Our property is one of the best kept secrets in Fruitvale,” said Seminiuk. “After living here for 41 years with all the privacy in the world, we love our home and don’t want to move.”
He is the last resident living on the road, which can only be accessed by driving through the ATCO operations.
For years Seminiuk leased an ATCO lot adjacent to his property for one dollar a year “to make it legal” and maintained an animal sanctuary for llamas, horses and natural wildlife in the area.
After a neighbour who resided on the lot west of his property line passed away, the parcel of land was sold to ATCO.
For a time, Seminiuk was appeased after he met with management at the veneer plant who assured him that the adjacent properties would only be used to store logs.
“Things were going along just fine for a long time because we have barriers to noise and dust in place such as our barn and large chicken coop,” explained Seminiuk. “We were happy and enjoying our retirement.”
That changed in July after Seminiuk received an unexpected phone call from a realty agency.
“They said that ATCO is in a position to buy you out and we’d like to send somebody down to appraise your place.”
He refused the offer.
“It’s like a wildlife preserve here,” said Seminiuk. “We are not interested in selling and too old to uproot and move anywhere else.
The situation escalated later in the month after a large yellow sign appeared near the top of his street posting ATCO’s intent to rezone the properties to industrial.
“We hit panic mode,” said Seminiuk.
Scott Weatherford, ATCO’s chief executive officer said in an email response to the Trail Times, “The purpose of our current rezoning application is to match the zoning classification of the ATCO owned subject properties that are currently zoned rural serviced, with the zoning classification of adjacent ATCO owned, industrial properties.
“This will help ATCO remain an economically viable business in the future, by allowing the use of the subject properties for purposes compatible with the applicable zoning bylaw; including the expansion of our log storage area.”
As with any proposed rezoning, signs are posted to notify the public and invite them to submit comments on the application directly to the RDKB, explained Ali Grieve, Area A director.
“The existing ATCO property is zoned Industrial Zone 4, which falls under a development permit zone,” she said, adding, “a permit application will be required in order to move forward with any development. This permit is in place in order to address and help mitigate possible negative impacts to adjacent property owners.”
Although a meeting was held earlier in the year inviting the public to air their concerns about rezoning the pastures, Seminiuk didn’t attend.
He heard from acquaintances who did meet, that fears of industrial noise and plant expansion were allayed during the gathering.
“To clarify, I knew about the meeting but thought that going down the garden path with ATCO meant there was no problem because the land would only be used for log overflow. Neighbours who went said that they calmed everyone down and there shouldn’t be a problem.”
In the following weeks, Seminiuk received a letter from the regional district stating that ATCO requested to rezone the land for log storage, however the company would like to use the properties for industrial expansion in the future if opportunities arise, according to Seminiuk.
“Right then I thought if they have the land right next to me there will be all kinds of trouble in terms of noise and dust. I am going to be squeezed out.”
Further, the regional district letter stated that he would have one last chance to discuss his concerns at a public hearing before the rezoning decision is made, which is the point Seminiuk finally realized what could happen.
“My sundeck that I sit on to enjoy afternoon sun and the sounds of nature is only 40 feet from their property line,” he continued, “Who knows? This winter could be quiet and nothing happens and before you know it in the spring, ‘boom’ everything will start.”
Seminiuk voiced his worries at the final meeting in the Fruitvale Hall but is convinced his words fell on deaf ears.
“I don’t know where this is headed but we are the only ones left on the street.”
There was a public hearing Sept. 23, confirmed Grieve. Seven members attended to provide comment and those will be passed on to the board for review prior to the final consideration of this application, she added.
Now, the rezoning decision is in the hands of the full board of regional directors Oct. 30 in Trail.
“I feel blindsided that the decision to rezone which will dramatically affect or ruin my life, lies in the hands of regional district directors as far away as Big White and Rock Creek,” said Seminiuk. “Not one of them has even come to see me and my property and has no idea what their decision will affect. This is David and Goliath as far as I am concerned.”
ATCO has been at its current location for over 50 years, injecting nearly $25 million annually into the economy and providing over 100 jobs, added Weatherford.