Glenbow Ranch ASP
Despite overwhelming opposition from County residents, Council approved the developer-funded Glenbow Ranch Area Structure Plan (GRASP) in July. Both Calgary and Cochrane have filed formal appeals against GRASP with the Municipal Government Board arguing that GRASP will cause detriment to their municipalities.
GRASP covers the land along the environmentally sensitive narrow plateau south of Highway 1A between Calgary and Cochrane. Before the area’s major landowner offered to pay for the ASP, the land had been part of the Bearspaw ASP where they were designated as “last to be developed” agricultural land. At full build-out, the area will now have a population of over 13,000 – a population equivalent to the 6th largest town in Alberta, based on 2016 data.
The following summarizes the key features of GRASP as well as highlighting the concerns many residents have with the ASP.
Traffic Chaos on Highway 1A
GRASP’s transportation study concluded that by 2035 Highway 1A would need to be expanded to six and eight lanes in various sections even without GRASP’s additional population. It also determined that GRASP’s incremental traffic could be managed by widening the road sooner than what would otherwise be necessary and by placing an additional five traffic lights along the highway between Bearspaw Road and Cochrane.
Currently, there is no commitment from the Province to undertake these upgrades. There is also no discussion in GRASP on how to deal with the incremental traffic load should the Province not live up to expectations. This is somewhat disconcerting when you consider that the Province had promised to twin Highway 1A by 1990, but only delivered on its promise some 20 years later.
Hiding Higher Densities Behind Complicated Transferrable Development Credit Scheme
GRASP is being touted as a creative, innovative conservation community. It will be the first development in Alberta to use Transferable Development Credits (TDCs). The “logic” is to encourage conservation of up to half of the land that “might” otherwise be developed.
However, GRASP assumes that all land with slopes up to 45% is buildable. Much of this land could never be developed because it wouldn’t pass a slope stability test, which is required for all land with slopes greater than 15%. This means that GRASP grants the right to build at higher densities in exchange for not building on land that would never have been built on. This exaggerates the conservation goals that are achieved by permitting the higher densities.
The end result is an ASP that will allow much higher density development than exists anywhere else in the County, with the exception of parts of the hamlet of Langdon. As well, the TDC program is voluntary and, if not used, GRASP will allow the entire area to be developed as 4-acre parcels. This may not sound bad. However, it should be remembered that these lands were designated last to develop in the Bearspaw ASP – meaning they have effectively jumped the queue as a result of the developer-paid ASP.
Residential Development Cells – No Phasing
GRASP divides its 7,400 acres into 10 development cells. Three of these have existing small country residential communities, two of which will have their densities maintained at 4-acre parcels. The third, against loud protests from its residents, will have its densities increased from 4-acre to 1-acre parcels.
Three of the currently undeveloped areas will have 1-acre parcels; one will have 2-acre parcels; the “hamlet” will have 5.57 units per acre. The two eastern-most areas were the subject of amendments to the plan and have ended up with 2.0 upa in one and 1.0 upa in the other. However, it should be noted that, in approving these amendments, many Councillors emphasized that the densities could be reviewed again at the local plan stage, which suggests that their densities may revert to their earlier higher levels.
Inadequate and/or Inappropriate Servicing
GRASP will require the developer(s) of the higher density areas (Cells G, I & J) to build what will become County owned and operated water and waste water infrastructure for the approximately 12,000 residents who will live in these areas at full build-out. The tentative layouts for these systems are circuitous and are proposed to be built through many of the plan’s conservation areas. All detail is being left to the local planning stage, with all operating risks left to the County.
The reduction to the densities in Cells I & J raise questions about the financial viability of the water/waste water infrastructure – a point that was raised by Administration but ignored by Council.
The remaining residents will not be connected to this infrastructure. Instead, they will rely on various types of septic systems, existing water co-ops and private wells. These residents will be scattered atop the park in 1 and 2-acre lots. Should their septic systems fail, the results could be disastrous for the park.
There are also concerns with the storm water management plans. The steep slopes in the area create 17 separate sub-catchment drainage areas. In spite of this complexity, GRASP leaves detailed storm water management to the local plan stage. As well, although GRASP talks about protecting the provincial park downslope from its development, the Master Drainage Plan proposes putting its major storm water ponds in the park.
Imposition on Outside Infrastructure
GRASP proposes to have only a small commercial development and plans to include elementary schools once it has been sufficiently built out. But, there are no plans for a high school or for health care facilities. As a result, even after full build-out, its population will impose on neighbouring infrastructure and services.
Between its initial development phases and full build-out, it will impose a significant burden on infrastructure elsewhere in the County and in surrounding municipalities. From schooling and recreation to police and fire, the strain on soft infrastructure in Cochrane and Calgary will be significant.
These are just some of the reasons why both Calgary and Cochrane are appealing GRASP.
Who Does GRASP Benefit?
The only clear beneficiary of GRASP is its large landowners. GRASP removes their land from the agricultural designation under the Bearspaw ASP and puts it into a separate ASP where all the land is immediately identified as residential. This effectively provides a green light for its landowners to increase their land values exponentially.
GRASP’s supporters have emphasized how it will be good for the Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park downslope from GRASP’s residential development. The Park is a wonderful treasure that protects a beautiful and environmentally sensitive landscape. The fact that the major landowner in GRASP donated the Park land to the Province is something for which all Albertans should be grateful. However, it is not clear how putting over 13,000 people at the top of the Park’s environmentally fragile escarpment can possibly protect the Park. The environmental risks the development pose for the Park are immense.
The County has long argued that it needs to encourage more commercial / industrial development to better balance the County’s assessment base. GRASP pushes this balance in the opposite direction. There does not appear to be any benefit from this development to residents elsewhere in the County and its water/waste water infrastructure runs the risk that the County may have to financially support this system as well as the one in east Rocky View. That system is responsible for the vast majority of the County’s debt.