A yoga and art retreat in the Foothills has been given a cautionary green light to continue with its operations.
Woodland West is the vision of Drew and Margit McNaughton, who began developing their Millarville-area property into a yoga retreat eight years ago. The original home on the land was converted into an open space to house workshops and classes, and a cabin in the woods and large treehouse were used for artists and some overnight stays.
Overnight guests were not part of the original site-specific amendment approval and the McNaughtons’ operations came under enforcement by the MD of Foothills after a few noise complaints from adjacent neighbours.
The McNaughtons went before MD council on Jan. 18 seeking permission to expand their yoga studio to offer classes seven days a week, and to have overnight accommodations approved for the property. They were also seeking permission to have small concerts on-site.
Council gave partial approval to the application, permitting extended hours for the yoga studio and small, contained concerts indoors. Overnight accommodations were not approved.
“The noise issue has really been that things are happening in the lower part of the property, the lower meadow, around the cabin, that corner that is closest to our neighbours,” said Drew. “There would be no events down there in the future, it’s all inside.”
He said music events would be small, in the style of house concerts, and would take place in the lodge. It’s well insulated and the sound doesn’t carry beyond Woodland West, he said.
MD Coun. Jason Parker said neighbour concerns about noise, traffic and enforcement played a key role in council’s decision. Concerts must be limited to no more than 40 attendees, and any larger yoga retreats must be done during working hours rather than weekend-long overnight experiences, he said.
“With some of the previous complaints, council really respects the feelings of our residents in the area, and since they had actually had some noise complaints with regards to the facility, that played a factor,” said Parker.
Council was also concerned about having to bring the cabin, treehouse and yurt into compliance with safety codes, and enforce their upkeep, he said.
He said some residents in the surrounding area have expressed concerns over prior breaches of their existing operating approvals, but council didn’t want to see the business, and the services it provides to local residents, be shut down completely.
“We felt we could move forward with helping them expand but putting the onus on them to make sure they do things to meet the conditions of their site specific amendment so they can reestablish trust with the adjacent landowners,” said Parker. “Then it’s their choice in the future if they want to try for something different.”
He said many Millarville-area residents take part in the yoga classes and speak highly of the business.
Karen Whitlie, who lives in Square Butte, said she’s been taking yoga classes at Woodland West for the past seven years.
The 75-year-old said she’s been involved in several of the nature walks and other workshops offered at Woodland West over the years, and the groups are never large or noisy.
“We might be outdoors walking around with our yoga, but yoga’s not a noisy kind of activity,” said Whitlie.
She said as far as she’s concerned, everything done on the property is positive. Nature walks to identify flowers and be in tune with nature, yoga classes and time spent with the permaculture garden are all beneficial for participants, she said.
The services offered at Woodland West are important to the community, she said, not only for the well-being of individuals, but also for the well-being of the community itself.
“They do things that build our community and draw us to participate together,” said Whitlie. “People like them make our community stronger, because the city is drawing people out but they’re keeping them here.”
Though council approved expansion of the yoga studio, she said preventing the overnight accommodation side of the business may affect the McNaughtons, who were hoping to retire to Woodland West. It’s possible Drew may have to find work outside the home to make ends meet, which she said is unfortunate.
“I think they made some mistakes early on because they didn’t know, because they weren’t aware the noise carried,” said Whitlie. “I don’t think they’re trying to make it a big huge thing, I think they really want to respect the environment and have people out to do that as well.”
Neighbour Doug Robertson said he lives within 150 metres of the cabin in the woods, which was one of the main causes of concern he brought forward to MD council on Jan. 18.
He also said noise issues and operating hours are concerns, in addition to a lack of consultation with neighbours before the McNaughtons applied to expand the business.
“On this application I have not been consulted, and I understand my neighbours have not been consulted,” Robertson said during the public hearing.
He said failure to comply with the original permit was also troubling, and made him wary of the McNaughtons’ plans for expanding their operations.
“Nobody in the area is opposed to a nice, quiet, sustainable yoga studio. That’s not what’s happened in the past,” said Robertson. “In the past, there has been both bylaw enforcement come in to stop the camping, and as late as last fall there was a bylaw order to stop a music concert.”