Ascension receives 2nd reading, Harmony density increased, Damkars re-application time limit waived
JUNE COUNCIL UPDATE
· ASCENSION APPLICATION GIVEN SECOND READING
· MOTION TO POST COUNCILLOR EXPENSES HIJACKED
· PROPOSED PARKING FOR GLENBOW RANCH PARK
· AMENDMENTS TO HARMONY DEVELOPMENT
· BUSINESS EXPANSION TO CALGARY FARMYARD IN DIVISION 4
· DAMKAR LANDS RE-APPLICATION TIMELINE WAIVED
· BALZAC EAST ASP EXPANDED BY 465-ACRES
· SHEPARD INDUSTRIAL ASP ON HOLD
ASCENSION APPLICATION GIVEN SECOND READING
On June 1st, Council tabled the Ascension application until June 15th pending Administration's review of proposed last-minute alternative access routes.
Ascension is located at the SW corner of 12 Mile Coulee Rd and Hwy 1A. The application proposed 540 single-family dwellings, 40 multi-family dwellings and 300 senior units on 170-acres with a 50-acre commercial development. The application received over 200 letters of opposition. Key concerns focused on increased densities, lack of transition, traffic impacts and road access. For all these reasons, I made a motion to refuse the application. Furthermore, in my opinion, the application relied more on setting aside policy than following it. My motion failed 6-3 with only Councillors Kissel and Hanson supporting me.
When Councillor Boehlke introduced amendments with regards to access points, Administration noted that they hadn’t properly reviewed them. As such, the application was put on hold until June 15th.
Ascension’s main access point will be through 12 Mile Coulee Rd. It will require upgrades to both that intersection and the Hwy 1A/12 Mile Coulee intersection. On June 15th, Administration provided the following three amendment options - granting access points at both Bearspaw Road South and Bearspaw Village Rd; access at Bearspaw Road South, with an emergency access only at Bearspaw Village Rd; or, access through Bearspaw Village Rd with emergency access only to Bearspaw Rd South.
Administration recommended the option for permanent access to both roads based on NFPA regulations that require three access points for this many dwellings. When I asked if the NFPA was a statutory document, Administration confirmed that it was not and that County policy only required one access point so long as there was also an emergency access.
Based on the comments made by the existing communities, not to mention that the Bearspaw Area Structure Plan has specific policy that does not allow Bearspaw Rd to be upgraded to allow for access through to Hwy 1A, I made the motion to have both suggested access points be permitted as emergency access only. There are many successful communities in the city (with far greater populations) that only have one way in and out – Discovery Ridge and Valley Ridge. However, my motion was defeated 5-4 this time with Deputy Reeve McKylor supporting Hanson, Kissel and me.
Boehlke then made a motion to allow permanent access through Bearspaw Rd South, with emergency access only to Bearspaw Village Rd. He stated that he did not think it appropriate to be closing roads. When I reminded him that this was undeveloped land and there were no roads to close, it didn’t seem to matter. His motion was approved 6-3, with Hanson, Kissel and me in opposition. It will now go to the CMRB for review.
MOTION TO POST COUNCILLOR EXPENSES HIJACKED
On June 8th, Councillors Hanson and Kissel brought forward a motion to have all councillor expenses, from the beginning of our term in October 2017, posted on the County’s website, claiming it followed Council’s Strategic Plan’s mandate to improve financial accountability and transparency.
The majority on Council stated that they had no problem sharing their expenses. However, because they had never been shown how to properly record them, they could easily be misconstrued. Examples cited were sharing rides with other councillors or one councillor buying lunch for multiple councillors.
Kissel stated that for that very reason, she had sat down with Administration when she was first elected to understand what proper protocol was. Councillor Hanson pointed out that there were instructions on the back of the form. I simply stated that if that truly was a concern, why had no one raised questions earlier, especially since the documents can be and have been released under Freedom of Information requests.
Concern about additional workload for Administration was also raised. In response, Administration noted that it wouldn’t be much effort as most of it was already done. It was also suggested that this was nothing but an election ploy by Hanson and Kissel. I fail to comprehend the logic in seeing this since every Councillor stated said they would provide their expenses to anyone who asked. I will be posting mine on my website in the coming days.
Deputy Reeve McKylor proposed an amendment to have expenses posted on the website starting as of June 30, 2021. Her motion failed 5-4. I personally felt the amendment was somewhat pointless. Council is being held online through July, off for the month of August, and then there are only two meetings in September. Expenses would have been minimal, at best.
Boehlke then amended the motion to have expense reporting commence with the new council. As Kissel stated, to hold another council to a higher standard than we were willing to hold ourselves was ridiculous. I agreed. Boehlke’s motion passed in a 6-3 vote, with Councillors Hanson, Kissel and me opposed.
In a final motion arising, Council directed Administration to standardize expense reporting for councillors and include training for the new Council following the election.
PROPOSED PARKING FOR GLENBOW RANCH PARK
On June 8th, Council debated a request by the Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation to ease parking restrictions on Glenbow Rd. At the beginning of the debate, McKylor announced that she sat on the Park Foundation’s Board but would be advocating on behalf of the County.
Earlier this year, the County placed no parking signs on both sides of Glenbow Rd - the key access point to the Park. This decision was reached through discussions with provincial Park officials based on complaints received about the dangerous parking / traffic situation and concerns about public safety.
While the Park had recently upgraded the parking lot, due to COVID, attendance has increased exponentially. As a result, park users were parking on both sides of the road often blocking local residents’ properties. There was discussion as to whether parking should be allowed on one side of the road only, however, concerns were raised about public safety as there is a steep slope on that side. Administration pointed out that they were currently working with the Province and the Park Foundation to find a solution.
There is no doubt that the road should have been upgraded when the park was established, however, this was not done. McKylor made a motion to allow 10 parking spots on one side of the road, close to the park. But concerns were raised that it would be difficult to determine where those spots began and ended and to avoid scope creep. Her motion failed 7-2 with only Gautreau in support.
A follow-up motion directing Administration to continue working with the Province and the Park Foundation was supported unanimously.
AMENDMENTS TO HARMONY DEVELOPMENT
Also on June 8th, Harmony’s developers came forward with amendments to expand the community from 3500 units to 4480 units through increased densities, to allow vacation rentals in all cells, and to open easterly access to Range Road 33 through a road to be constructed through the north-east corner of the Springbank Airport.
Residents, east of Harmony, raised concerns with an earlier proposal that would have used their local road to connect with Range Road 33. Given the proposed increased densities and traffic from the golf course, they felt this would erode their rural community. As such, the developer worked with the Springbank Airport to find an alternate route - a win for all involved.
With regards to the density increase, I asked why an additional 1000 lots were necessary considering that they had only built out less than 10% of their original request (300 homes). The applicant stated that the increase reflected changed market demand and would facilitate flexibility for things such as aging in place. Furthermore, the applicant indicated it allowed for comprehensive planning of the community which would provide certainty to future buyers.
While the entire county has been growing by approximately 200 new homes per year, Harmony’s developers stated that they anticipated growth of 300-400 homes per year. This may be ambitious, however, as the developer stated, a more comprehensively planned community creates wins for everyone. Furthermore, the local community had no apparent issue with the increased density and Administration recommended approval. The application was approved unanimously.
BUSINESS EXPANSION TO ‘CALGARY FARMYARD’ IN DIVISION 4
On June 15th, an agri-tourism business in Division 4 had amendments to its direct control bylaw approved unanimously. The business, Calgary Farmyard, which operates a corn maze, petting zoo, pumpkin patch and other fun family activities had asked to relax its restrictions to accommodate a restaurant, store and other amenities to improve and expand their business.
Some concerns were raised about extending the hours of operation to 10pm. The applicants assured Council that this would only be for a few weeks during their fall Harvest Lights festival and that they had offered to work with neighbours regarding additional landscaping to block lighting.
It was great to see a business like this coming forward looking for expansion, especially during what have been such difficult times.
DAMKAR LANDS RE-APPLICATION TIMELINE WAIVED
On June 22nd, Council was asked to waive the six-month re-application timeline for the Damkar Lands application. The applicant’s reason was that they had significantly changed the scope of the application from four apartment buildings with 350-units to one 140-unit apartment building and 60 villa style units.
I moved to refuse the request on the grounds that the six-month wait time is to provide the applicant with time to work with the community to make appropriate changes to an application. I also believe it is there to provide stakeholders with some down time before an application comes forward again. The applicant claimed that they listened to the feedback from the public hearing and believed this amendment would ameliorate concerns.
To have a revised application ready one week after its public hearing, is interesting to say the least. The applicant’s letter stated that they had spoken with the 12 Mile Coulee Group to discuss this new plan. However, the group made it very clear that they neither condoned the plan nor were they proxy for greater public consultation. In addition, Watermark’s original concept scheme provided for 57 villas on the Damkar Lands. The new proposal is more villas plus a 140-unit apartment building. Despite this, the majority on Council felt that the changes were sufficiently different from the original application to waive the waiting period. The motion was approved 5-4 with Reeve Henn and Councillors Hanson, Kissel and me in opposition.
BALZAC EAST ASP EXPANDED BY 465-ACRES
On June 29th, Council voted unanimously to add an additional 465-acres to the Balzac East Area Structure Plan. The lands are located directly to the east of the County Hall property.
The applicant stated that the development will be phased in four sections with a mix of commercial, service commercial and industrial.
I asked for detail on the build out of the Balzac East Area Structure Plan and was told it was at 28%, with 82% of the land in approved local plans. Administration also stated that they are doing a comprehensive review on what is actually approved where.
While not entirely convinced that the expansion is necessary, there was no opposition from local businesses or residents.
SHEPARD INDUSTRIAL ASP ON HOLD
In a unanimous decision, also on June 29th, the developer-funded 1900-acre Shepard Industrial ASP was referred to Administration to work with the City on possible cost recovery and other planning options for the lands.
The lands, immediately to the east of the city, are located in what is identified by both municipalities as a Calgary growth corridor - lands the city intends to annex in the future. Calgary voiced concerns with the application because it would seriously hinder the flexibility of future development planning.
The applicant’s long-term intent is to create an intermodal hub for CP rail, similar to that of CN’s in Conrich. While there appears to be little doubt that this is where CP will locate when the time is right, the developer had no actual commitment from CP.
I asked if there was a possibility to work with both the city and the CMRB to create an additional Joint Planning Area on those lands. It was agreed that Administration will take that forward into discussions along with some potential amendments to Calgary and Rocky View’s intermunicipal development plan.