MDP and Springbank ASPs given second reading, Summit pit approved, Meadow Drainage project amended
MARCH 21 UPDATE
· MUNICIPAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN RECEIVES SECOND READING
· SPRINGBANK ASPS GIVEN SECOND READING
· SUMMIT PIT APPROVED
· BEARSPAW DRAINAGE PROJECTS AMENDED
· BLAZER WATER SYSTEMS ACQUISITION GIVEN FIRST READING
· HORSE CREEK WATER/WASTEWATER SYSTEM ACQUISITION GIVEN FIRST READING
· BRAGG CREEK FAWN HILLS DEVELOPMENT REFUSED
· COUNCIL TO MOVE TO WEEKLY MEETINGS
MUNICIPAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN GIVEN SECOND READING
In a complicated hearing, spanning multiple days, the Municipal Development Plan (MDP) was given second reading. The MDP is the County’s highest level planning document, providing overarching development policy where there are no ASPs or concept plans.
Whenever County residents are asked for their input on how this County should develop, the desire to preserve our rural identity is always top of the list. However, instead of providing strong rules directing development towards Priority Growth Areas such as hamlets or existing ASPs, the new MDP allows for development anywhere, at Council’s discretion.
In changes made in the first reading draft, after public engagement had ended, the majority of “shall” statements were changed to “should” statements. In a series of amendments, Councillors Hanson, Kissel and I tried to reintroduce the “shall” language, however, all attempts were defeated 6-3. The rationale provided the majority was that “shall” statements are too prescriptive. Interestingly, the County Plan (the County’s current MDP) has many “shall” statements. When you consider all the development that has been approved under the County Plan, it is safe to say that the limitations of shall statements are not that limiting, so why relax the rules further?
Due to an oversight by Administration, the MDP left out the requirements for Master Site Development Plans, both generally and for aggregate operations. MSDPs set the guidelines for the long-term development of a site, for example the rules under which a gravel operator can extract aggregate. Despite this, the Council majority voted not to put these sections back into the MDP – claiming that the guidelines eliminated discretion. As it stands, the MDP now refers to MSDPs, but provides no guidance on what should be included in those MSDPs. Again, Council discretion.
The County received letters from Calgary and from Alberta Parks regarding the MDP. The majority on council refused to consider either letter, claiming they were “late submissions”.
After Council dealt with its own amendments, it turned to amendments suggested by Administration. Their first amendment suggested a tabling motion so that further discussions with neighbouring jurisdictions could occur. The motion passed 5-4 with all but McKylor, Schule, Gautreau and Boehlke in favour.That decision was short lived. In an unprecedented move, the following day, the tabling motion was rescinded at Boehlke’s initiative. He stated that delaying the process could mean that the MDP may not come back from the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board in time for this Council to deal with it and a new Council would lack the experience. As a result, Kamachi changed his vote and the 5-4 decision swung in the other direction. Council then proceeded to deal with the remaining amendments, gave the MDP second reading and sent it to the CMRB for its review and approval – eliminating the opportunity for further discussion with our neighbours. If the MDP is approved by the CMRB, it will come back to Council for final approval.
SPRINGBANK ASPS GIVEN SECOND READING
In a continuation of the hearings in mid-February, Council gave second reading to the North and South Springbank ASPs. Despite receiving letters from Calgary and the Stoney Nation asking to continue discussions about their concerns with the document, in a 5-4 decision (all but Hanson, Kissel, Henn and me), Council dismissed the requests as “late submissions.” This despite clear statements by Administration that the conversations between both the City and Province had been on-going, not last minute.
A number of real last-minute changes were made to the documents, many of which did not change them significantly. However, there were a few that dramatically altered the direction of both documents without public engagement.
Deputy Reeve McKylor succeeded in changing the proposed land uses for the quarter-sections flanking the entire length of Hwy 1 from the city to Hwy 22 from residential to commercial. Administration noted that the change would significantly alter the transportation and servicing plans and that the policies being extended to these lands weren’t drafted to apply to their circumstances.
In the South Springbank ASP, densities for villa condo developments were increased from 4 to 10 units/acre and relaxed from one-storey to four-stories. A similar attempt to redesignate the same villa condo designation in the North ASP, only to 20 units/acre, failed. Neither change reflected input received from the public. Combined, the Springbank ASPs will allow for up to 55,000 additional residents – three times the anticipated growth for the entire County over the next 20 years.
Hanson attempted to modify the Urban Interface Areas to reflect the input received from impacted residents. However, the Council majority was not interested.
There was a significant amount of opposition to the proposed Urban Interface Areas and the proposed Special Planning Areas, all along the Calgary border. Because of that, my preference would have been to table the documents for further review by both residents and the City. It was clear that the stakeholders were split – large landowners and developers felt the document was well done while residents felt it was rushed and there were too many unexplained last-minute changes.
Both ASPs will now be sent to the CMRB for its review and approval. In my opinion, we should have at least been willing to listen to the concerns of our neighbour and residents before approving these ASPs.
SUMMIT GRAVEL PIT APPROVED
Despite overwhelming opposition, the application for the Summit pit in Division 9 was approved 6-3 with Councillors Hanson, Kissel and me in opposition. Summit is located just west of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, one of Canada’s top four natural mineral springs and host to upwards of 250,000 visitors annually.
Residents in opposition hired a hydrogeologist/geochemist to provide an independent expert report on the pit’s potential negative impacts on the Park. In response to that report, Alberta Parks asked the County to create a 1.6km setback from the Park or conduct a third-party assessment. The Council majority rejected both, stating that the applicant’s studies provided assurances that all impacts could be mitigated. Of note, the applicant’s studies, unlike the residents’ expert report, did not consider impacts to water chemistry, the creek, or downstream fish habitats; nor did they address cumulative impacts (there are two other pits in the area).
The Council majority indicated that the residents should have worked with the applicant to address their concerns prior to the hearing. They also stated that they believed the applicant’s experts had addressed all concerns raised in opposition. In my opinion, it is not the responsibility of residents to “work” with applicants when their expert opinions differ. It is Council’s responsibility to determine which expert they believe or to hire an impartial third-party expert to evaluate both opinions.
BEARSPAW DRAINAGE PROJECTS AMENDED
As you are aware, Council approved the $5 million Meadow Drive project and the $500,000 Burma Rd/RR 25 project to help alleviate the water issues that have plagued the areas for decades. Originally the solution was to have the water drain through a gravity solution through a series of culverts and swales that naturally drained towards the east – under Rocky Ridge Rd and down to the West Nose Creek tributary within the City of Calgary. Administration subsequently became concerned that the associated risks and delays due to downstream stakeholder engagement and Alberta Environment and Parks approvals would delay matters considerably. As a result, the County hired consultants to evaluate alternative drainage solutions.
The consultants’ feasibility study presented three potential options, all of which utilize lift-stations to mechanically convey water to the North through the Harvey Hills area to an outlet within the County. Council was advised this was a “Made in Rocky View” solution that, if all went well, could commence as early as this Fall. All three potential solutions combine the Meadow Drive project and the Burma Rd / RR25 project into one.
BLAZER WATER SYSTEMS – ACQUISITION GIVEN FIRST READING
In 2020, Blazer Water Systems (owned by MacDonald Developments) advised the County that it wanted to sell. They had been approached by an interested third-party, however, as part of the franchise agreement, the County has first right of refusal. As a result of discussions, a purchase price of $9MM was settled upon.
Administration estimates that the first three years will run a deficit of $1.6 million and that the utility could be cash flow positive as soon as 2024 and debt serviced by 2029.
The Administrative report was difficult to navigate as it referred to cubic metre usage and customer numbers interchangeably. The report noted that the system is capable of servicing 1,250 customers but with some minor upgrades could accommodate 2,700. When I asked how many were currently on the system, Administration stated that they believed it was around 700.
Blazer’s current water licenses provide up to 2,150m3. It was noted that its treatment plant could be expanded by a further 2,500m3. When I asked whether the County would be responsible for providing the licenses to accommodate that, Administration stated that new developers would be responsible for their own licenses.
Administration indicated they would have more complete information once the application came back for second reading. First reading was determining if Council wanted to proceed with the debt-financed acquisition.
Council unanimously gave the borrowing bylaw first reading. The borrowing bylaw will now be advertised and an application made to the Alberta Utilities Commission to transfer ownership to the County. The borrowing bylaw will need to be given second and third reading before the County’s purchase is finalized. Should that occur, there will have to be a budget adjustment to take on the debt.
COCHRANE LAKES WATER ACQUISITION GIVEN FIRST READING
In 2019, MacDonald Communities made a presentation to the Governance and Priorities Committee explaining the challenge faced by residents and developers using and / or wishing to tie-in to the Horse Creek Water and Waste Water system. As a result, Administration was directed to work with MacDonald Communities, Schickedanz Developments and the owner of the Horse Creek system to facilitate a resolution of the impasse.
After lengthy negotiations, the County agreed to a purchase price of $13 million to be split – $4.5MM from the County and $8.5MM from MacDonald Communities and Schickedanz. The developers will pay 30% up front with the remainder as annual payments. The County will own and operate the water utility after its acquisition.
Administration estimates that the first four years of operating will run a deficit of $1.7 million and that it could be cash flow positive as soon as 2025 and debt serviced by 2028.
Council also unanimously gave first reading to the borrowing bylaw for this debt-financed acquisition. The borrowing bylaw will now be advertised and an application will be made to the Alberta Utilities Commission to transfer ownership to the County. As with the borrowing bylaw for Blazer, this needs second and third reading before the purchase is finalized and a budget adjustment is made to take on the debt.
BRAGG CREEK FAWN HILLS DEVELOPMENT DEFEATED UNANIMOUSLY
An application to create 22 two-acre lots in Bragg Creek was defeated unanimously. Administration recommended refusal as the application was inconsistent with many of the policies of the Greater Bragg Creek Area Structure Plan (GBASP).
The application was proposing almost twice as many lots as permitted under the GBASP all of which were to use private wells and septic systems even though the ASP requires communal servicing. The application also lacked a proper slope stability assessment, biophysical assessment, and environmental assessment – requirements under the ASP. It also proposed Municipal Reserves for land that should be Environmental Reserves and ignored the ASP’s requirement to maintain wildlife corridors.
At the public hearing, the applicant indicated they were willing to use a communal well. While this was a positive step, the application was still seriously inconsistent with the GBASP. Local residents were strongly opposed.
The applicant argued that a neighbouring community had similar sized lots and that Council should exercise its discretion and use it as a comparative to allow the development to proceed. This is true, however, the adjacent neighbourhood was approved in 1978. The current GBASP was created in 2006, after extensive work to determine what the land could accommodate and how to protect Bragg Creek’s environment and wildlife as development proceeded. Given the lack of local support and the technical insufficiencies, I could not support the plan.
COUNCIL TO MOVE TO WEEKLY MEETINGS
Due to the large number of requests from applicants to have their proposals heard by this Council. Administration recommended holding one additional meeting per month between now and October election. Currently, Council meets twice monthly – every second and fourth Tuesday.
Debate occurred around whether we should move to weekly meetings. Some on Council believed that having more frequent meetings would mean shorter meetings, thereby making a lighter load for Administration. Others stated it would help us get through the enormous backlog. In response, Administration stated that while weekly meetings may result in some shorter meetings, the “behind-the-scenes” work involved was far more arduous for them and would stretch them thin.
Based on that information, I made a motion supporting Administration’s request for one additional meeting per month. It failed 5-4 with only Kamachi, Hanson and Henn supporting me. Then a motion to move to weekly meetings passed. Starting the Tuesday of May, Council will be meeting weekly (except for August when Council is on vacation).