The Nelligan family (from left: Jasper, Angus, Paris, Frankie-Lou and Bruce) off the back deck on their Westmeadows Estates Acreage west of Calgary. Photo by Wil Andruschak/For CREB®Now

Life as a country mouse

Acreage living brings unique challenges and opportunities 

Frankie-Lou Nelligan is no stranger to country life. She grew up on farms and acreages before returning to that lifestyle three years ago. Even so, Nelligan still experienced some maintenance surprises when, for example, she turned on her sink taps and the kitchen filled with the odour of rotten eggs. As she discovered, she needed to “shock” the well, or disinfect it with chlorine.

“My husband is a city mouse and I’m a country mouse. If you want to live on an acreage, you definitely have to have a country mouse,” says Nelligan, who along with her husband and three children, live on five acres in Springbank.

“You’re responsible for a lot more on an acreage. Every year, some kind of maintenance needs to be done on the septic tank or the well.”

The Municipal District of Foothills’ website warns would-be residents: “Rural municipalities typically do not provide the same level of service that urban municipalities provide.”

Then ensues a long list of things people should expect with the non-urban lifestyle including that newspaper and mail delivery may not be available, that services like garbage collection may not operate at urban standards, that cell phones may not work in all areas and that if you start a forest fire on your property, you are responsible for paying the cost of extinguishing it.

Springbank acreage owner Karin Hunter says, echoing Nelligan, one of the main differences she has discovered between living in the city and on an acreage is the labour involved, noting that even basic lawn care for her two acres is a substantially more time-consuming endeavour compared to when she lived in Coach Hill.

Nelligan and her husband, in fact, have not one, but two, tractors to mow their lawn in the summer and clear their 400-metre driveway in the winter.

While some people believe having an acreage allows you complete freedom when it comes to what you want to build and the animals you want to own, nothing could be further from the truth.

“Rocky View County has 36 different types of land, from industrial to residential, and each one has its own rules. Anyone looking to move onto an acreage needs to research and understand the rules for a particular piece of property they are interested in,” explains Amy Dunn Mosco, Rocky View’s communications co-ordinator.

A quick perusal of the County’s Land Use Bylaw Reference Guide reveals rules pertaining to minimum habitable floor area, building height, and maximum total building area allowed for accessory buildings.

“In some areas of Springbank, especially the newer ones, if you want to do anything to your property, it has to be approved by the community or homeowners’ association,” Hunter says.

Nelligan says she avoids potential issues by keeping outbuildings small.

That being said, it’s certainly not uncommon to see large, sprawling homes situated on acreage properties.

“Typically there’s no stated maximum building area for the principal dwelling. Limitations on building size and area are usually affected by site constraints, setback requirements and individual landowner needs and wants,” Mosco adds.

Before making the move to an acreage, Hunter and Nelligan say one should also weigh the personal importance of urban conveniences – like the proximity of grocery stores – as well as how much driving one is willing to do to facilitate children’s extra-curricular activities.

“That has broken the backs of lots of parents. They have to move off the acreage because there’s too much commuting for the kids,” cautions Nelligan.

Both Hunter and Nelligan concur, however, that the benefits of acreage living far outweigh its challenges.

“We wanted more space for our four children to go out and run and play,” says Hunter, adding the youngsters can now toboggan, bike and rollerblade on the safety of familial property.

“I’m a very avid gardener,” Nelligan says, noting that some of her city neighbours had taken umbrage with her green thumb. I don’t have that problem any more. Now, I can grow whatever I want,” she says, adding she also keeps ducks that supply the family with fresh eggs.

“Overall, it’s been a real positive change for our family. You feel a sense of relaxation out here and that sense of space,” says Hunter.

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