Solar farm approved, Brewery/hotel approved, Broadband update, Land sale/Springbank rec funding
· SOLAR FARM APPROVED IN DIV 6
· BREWERY/RESTAURANT/BOUTIQUE HOTEL APPROVED IN BRAGG CREEK
· RANCH AND FARM PARCEL REDESIGNATED AS AGRICULTURAL HOLDING IN DIV 4
· REQUEST TO WAIVE REAPPLICATION TIMELINE REFUSED IN DIV 2
· CORPORATE BUSINESS PLAN COMPLETE
· COMMMUNITY BROADBAND STUDY PROJECT UPDATE
· COMMUNITY RECREATION FUNDING GRANT PROGRAM BYLAW APPROVED
· GOVERNANCE AND PRIORITIES (GPC) COMMITTEE RESCINDED
· CODE OF CONDUCT BYLAW AMENDMENTS APPROVED
· SPECIAL EVENTS BYLAW APPROVED
· MASTER RATES BYLAW APPROVED
· SPRINGBANK COMMUNITY BUILDING/FUTURE REC REQUIREMENTS FUNDING
SOLAR FARM APPROVED IN DIVISION 6
An application for an 80-acre solar farm in Division 6 was approved unanimously. Solar farms are considered a temporary land-use as they do not impact the ground they occupy and when the solar farm reaches the end of its lifespan the lands are easily returned to agricultural use.
The application is on land adjacent to land designated Natural Resource Industrial (gravel extraction). The owners of the gravel pit had no issues with the application, however, they wanted to make sure that the applicant was aware of the gravel pit and the dust that the operation generated. The applicant did know the gravel pit was there and said it should not pose any issues to the solar farm.
BREWERY/RESTAURANT/BOUTIQUE HOTEL APPROVED IN BRAGG CREEK
An application to create a brewery/restaurant/boutique hotel in Bragg Creek was approved 6-1 with Reeve Boehlke in opposition. Councillor Gautreau was absent for the day, while local Councillor Kamachi was called away. Administration recommended refusal.
The application was for a 3-storey hotel with a brewery and restaurant. The 22 people who spoke in support stated this is exactly what Bragg Creek needed as part of its revitalization plan. Those in opposition were concerned that the building was too large and there would be parking issues since the property is too small for the number of spaces required under County policy.
The applicants indicated that they had an agreement with a nearby neighbouring property owner to use his property for the shortfall in on-site parking spaces. As many who spoke in support stated, many hotels do not provide onsite parking and valet parking for hotel guests should be an acceptable solution.
The application was complicated in that it had been refused by the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board. Rather than appealing the SDAB decision in court, the applicants reapplied for a direct control bylaw to permit them to build the 3-storey hotel/brewery/ restaurant complex with Council acting as the development authority. This provided some reassurances in that Council would have final say.
It was a really tough decision. Those speaking in support and opposition all made compelling arguments. While the immediate neighbour had serious concerns with the height of the building, policy allows for the standard height restriction to be relaxed in the hamlet core. Furthermore, the applicant promised to work with the adjacent property owner to provide privacy screening. Of note, the applicant’s and neighbour’s properties are part of the Bragg Creek hamlet core and are zoned commercial. In terms of the parking concerns, I believe that the issue can be dealt with through the applicants’ commitments to secure off-site parking through a legally binding caveat on the property providing the parking.
REQUEST TO WAIVE REAPPLICATION TIMELINE REFUSED IN DIVISION 2
An application to waive the six-month reapplication timeline was refused on an application for a cell tower in Division 2. The revised application will seek to relocate the cell tower in a different location but on the same parcel. Administration recommended refusal.
Reapplication timelines exist for a reason and I believe that for it to be waived requires significant reasons, none were provided. As such, I supported Administration’s recommendation and the wish of the local Councillor McKylor.
CORPORATE BUSINESS PLAN COMPLETE
When Rick McDonald was the interim-CAO, one of the shortfalls he identified was a lack of a Corporate Business Plan. The Corporate Business Plan provides guidelines for Administration to advance the priorities identified in Council’s Strategic Plan.
While I would have preferred the Corporate Business Plan to have included mechanisms by which Administration will achieve its goals, along with some deliverables, the plan is long overdue and, as was stated by Administration, it will be continuously reviewed.
It was noted that Administration’s job is to focus on goals and initiatives, ensure fees are aligned with costs, review funding mechanisms, and reduce red tape while maintaining accountability to the public.
The document includes numerous comments that refer to community engagement. When I asked for details, Administration advised that they were not anticipating actual public engagement sessions rather they would be using feedback received from ratepayers as part of ongoing interactions during regular processes. I can’t emphasize enough how important your feedback is on County processes. Please let Administration know if you are satisfied or have concerns with the service you receive as your feedback is what generates improvements.
COMMMUNITY BROADBAND STUDY PROJECT UPDATE
In late 2018, Councillor Hanson and I brought forward a Notice of Motion to create an internet servicing strategy for the County. Last April, the Council majority voted to change course and approved the Community Broadband Study project, which had been brought forward by a group from Bragg Creek. As well as the money remaining from our initiative, funding for this project is based on successful application for a provincial grant to cover 50% of the project cost.
While this direction was provided last Spring, the provincial election put the grant program on hold. As a result, the project has been delayed because the grant application could not be submitted until late November.
Administration advised that, in the interim, some internet service providers (ISPs) have been studying servicing options in the County. Xplornet has identified several under-serviced areas, including Bragg Creek, Conrich, East Balzac and Langdon and has asked Council for a letter of support in applying to the CRTC’s Universal Broadband Fund to improve servicing in the County.
I asked if providing this letter of support would restrict the County on any internet-related initiatives for other areas. Administration indicated that the County did not have plans for other initiatives beyond the Community Broadband Study project and that its contractor would study broadband provision for the County once they received confirmation of the abovementioned grant. Administration noted that the ISPs were gaining some traction in the community and did have the potential to receive CRTC funding. However, it was also stated that the CRTC’s funding is targeted at rural communities with little to no servicing.
COMMUNITY RECREATION FUNDING GRANT PROGRAM BYLAW APPROVED
At its February 4th meeting, the Recreation Governance Committee (RGC) passed a resolution recommending amendments to the Community Recreation Funding Policy for Council’s approval. The amendments tightened up the document to reflect the mandate of the newly created RGC Committee.
The policy included a conflict of interest clause for groups applying for funding that gave the CAO the ability to withhold funds from a group if he felt there was a conflict of interest with the requesting organization’s board members. However, there was no clear definition of what this entailed. As such, I made a motion to include the same definition as is in the bylaw for County boards and committees. Without this definition, I felt the clause could be used arbitrarily. My motion passed 6-2, with everyone but Councillors Kamachi and Henn in support.
I tried to make other amendments but Administration advised Council that the policy had already been approved by the RGC and that Council approval was just a formality. In my mind, this illustrates the problems with the sanctions. By removing us from committees like RGC, Councillor Kissel, Hanson and I cannot participate in the discussions that generate policy amendments such as these. Although I was told that we could provide input when the policy comes back for further amendment later this year, it is not clear how that will happen if the sanctions are still in place. Council doesn’t receive the agenda packages until late on the Tuesday before a council meeting. Under the sanctions, our questions must be given to the Reeve by Friday. This leaves little time for the three of us to thoroughly review an agenda and make comments. Moreover, this is not a restriction faced by our colleagues. Before the sanctions were imposed, the Policy Review Committee reviewed all policy amendments before they came to Council. The council majority eliminated that committee as unnecessary. At this point, the only place for us to raise concerns and questions is during Council meetings but, in this case, we were told it was not appropriate.
GOVERNANCE AND PRIORITIES COMMITTEE RESCINDED
The Governance and Priorities Committee (GPC) took over from the Policy and Priorities Committee (PPC) in 2019 as the committee that allowed Council to hear submissions on various topics in a non-decision-making format. As Administration pointed out, there were earlier versions of this committee before PPC as well. The committee is intended to assist Council in establishing priorities by providing a mechanism for the public, community groups and other stakeholders to present matters they believe are important to their community or ideas they want to share with Council.
The Council majority moved to eliminate GPC’s terms of reference with the promise that its presentations would become part of regular Council meetings. The reasoning was that the number of presentations were decreasing and it didn’t make sense to come in for an additional day only to hear one or two presentations.
I had concerns with how this will work. Council agendas are frequently over 1,000 pages, with meetings lasting until the evening. No information was provided as to when these presentations would be heard during regular Council meetings. As it stands, we have people sitting through 8-hour Council meetings before we get to their application. This proposal appears to mean that either these people may have to wait even longer or people making a GPC presentation may have to potentially wait around all day – neither seems fair.
Councillor Kissel made a motion to have GPC scheduled on the same days as Municipal Planning Commission meetings. MPC meetings are held every second and fourth Monday of the month. However, her motion failed 3-5 with only Councillor Hanson and me in support. The motion to include GPC in regular Council meetings passed 5-3, with Hanson, Kissel and me in opposition.
CODE OF CONDUCT AMENDING BYLAW APPROVED
As mentioned in the February 11th update, Councillors Kissel, Hanson and I held the amendments to the Council Code of Conduct at third reading as we didn’t have time to properly review last minute changes to the document.
On February 24th, the amendments to the Council Code of Conduct were approved 7-1. I was the lone opposition. As mentioned in the Feb 11th update, while some of the changes were improvements, I cannot support a process that removes the public’s direct access to the investigator if they believe that a Councillor’s conduct violates the Code of Conduct. Allowing Council to vet which applications will be sent to an investigator is akin to letting the fox watch over the hen house, in my opinion.
SPECIAL EVENTS BYLAW APPROVED
In 2019, the County recognized the need to design a coordinated approach for special events as the current process is managed under an outdated 15-year old bylaw. The Special Events Bylaw supports the new streamlined process, which simplifies obtaining special event permits while ensuring legislative requirements are met.
Administration analyzed information received from other municipalities as well as stakeholder groups to identify key areas that needed improvement. The bylaw provides one County point-of-contact, easy to fill-out forms, a better notification system, and the creation of a Special Event Advisory Technical Team within Administration. Schools and non-profit organizations are excluded from permit fees.
The bylaw identifies three levels of special events: large events such a parades, festivals, concerts and circuses; medium events such as rodeos, road races, and farmers’ markets; and neighbourhood or community events such as block parties, birthday parties, and weddings. Administration indicated that grouping events by impact rather than number of attendees made the bylaw more user-friendly and simpler to enforce. The bylaw passed unanimously.
MASTER RATES BYLAW APPROVED
Every year Administration reviews the fees that it charges for various goods and services. These fees are consolidated into the Master Rates Bylaw.
Changes were made to align with various policy changes. For example, new fees were added for the special events bylaw, cemetery fees were increased to align with the County’s Cemetery Master Plan, rental fees will be implemented for those wishing to utilize County office space, along with other fee increases that will help the County move towards cost recovery in areas such as water/waste water servicing.
Councillor Hanson asked if Council’s decision to waive dog license fees has increased compliance. Administration did not have the information available but believed it had. A gentle reminder, if you don’t have a dog license to please get one – they are free. An unlicensed dog carries a $150 fine. Click here for more information.
SPRINGBANK COMMUNITY BUILDING/FUTURE REC REQUIREMENTS FUNDING APPROVED
Councillor McKylor’s notice of motion regarding a possible community centre in Springbank was approved. Her motions included selling a parcel of County land in the town of Cochrane and setting aside its net proceeds as well as the existing Springbank MSI funds ($2.2 million) for “equitable distribution” towards a new Springbank Community Centre, future recreation as well as land(s)as required by either of these projects.
The County is currently working on its Master Recreation Plan. While Councillor McKylor has been forthright in her quest for a community centre in the Springbank area, until the Master Plan is finalized, I do not believe that Council should be making decisions such as these. In my opinion, it biases the process and predetermines the outcome.
Administration stated that the results of the Rocky View West Master Rec Plan had identified a community centre as its top priority. When I questioned that assertion, Administration indicated it was one of the top priorities. Councillor McKylor stated that it wasn’t just the 3,000 residents she represents who would benefit from such a facility, rather 10,000 residents in all of Springbank, Elbow Valley, and Bragg Creek.
Questions were asked about the rumoured plans for another YMCA in Calgary’s Crestmont area and how Rocky View was working with the city to create facilities that benefit the region. Reeve Boehlke advised this was being done through the Calgary Metropolitan Regional Board.
The motion to sell the land in Cochrane passed 5-3, with Councillors Hanson, Kissel and me in opposition. The motion to dedicate “an equitable share” of the proceeds to a Springbank community building, future recreation as well as land(s) as required by either project passed 6-2 with Councillor Kissel and me in opposition.
I did not support the motions because I do not believe selling the land, at this time, is in the highest and best interest of the County as, unlike many fee simple parcels, the land generates revenue through a lease agreement. Not to mention, allocating funding to specific projects before the Master Rec Plan is completed is like putting the cart before the horse. As well, no information was provided on what was meant by “equitable distribution” of the sales proceeds from the land. This seemed to me to be an important component of the decision.