GRASP: What's the rush?
Rocky View Forward is unable to support the Glenbow Ranch Area Structure Plan (GRASP) as it is currently envisioned. GRASP proposes to put over 15,700 residents on the narrow plateau above a very environmentally sensitive area. GRASP represents piecemeal planning under the guise of providing a “number of well-balanced” and “multigenerational” communities. At best, it will be a scattered and disjointed bedroom community that provides no direct benefit to the County or our neighbouring communities.
Under the Bearspaw Area Structure Plan (BASP), the majority of GRASP’s lands are agricultural and are designated as “last to be developed”. These represent half of the BASP’s identified agricultural lands. The BASP is scheduled for review in late 2017. It would make sense to determine the fate of this portion of the BASP as part of that review. However, this is not the case. Instead, some of landowners within GRASP have paid to jump the queue by creating a developer paid ASP. This is not how rational development policy should emerge.
GRASP is only being entertained because of intense lobbying on behalf of those landowners during the County Plan process. Despite this lobbying, there is no evidence that this area has ever been designated as a growth node or hamlet in any current policy.
The GRASP has only tenuous connections to the County Plan, BASP and the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan. Rather, GRASP cherry-picks elements from these documents to claim consistency. However, it is glaringly inconsistent with the overall development policy guidance provided in any of them. (View here for Janet Ballantyne’s submission on GRASP’s first draft for details on these inconsistencies.)
GRASP states it is responding to development pressures in the area, but provides no evidence to support this assertion. In fact, the County’s land inventory indicates that there are decades of capacity remaining in the Bearspaw ASP and elsewhere in the County. This plan would saturate a relatively stagnant market.
Until the community is built out, GRASP residents will impose significantly on the County’s soft infrastructure, as well as that of Cochrane and Calgary. From schooling and recreational facilities to fire protection and policing, the strain will be significant. Even after it is built out, it will impose on neighbouring infrastructure – the minimal commercial component and lack of health care facilities or a high school will force residents to go elsewhere for these basic services.
GRASP proposes to use a complicated system of Transferable Development Credits to purportedly conserve just under half of its developable land. To make this claim, it defines as developable land that would be considered undevelopable anywhere else in the County (land with slopes greater than 30%). One only needs to look a short distance west to Cochrane’s Glen Eagles community to witness how unpredictable the slopes are in this area.
GRASP also assumes that everyone will participate in the voluntary TDC program. Assumptions are a risky component of planning. For those who do not participate in the complicated and untested program, it instantly provides the green light to develop 4-acre parcels over the entire ASP. In essence, it provides exactly what it claims it is avoiding– large acreage sprawl.
Given how environmentally sensitive this area is, a reality acknowledged in GRASP, this is not a plan that should be rushed. GRASP must ensure its i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. As it stands, it does neither. Instead, we are being presented with a plan whose population increased by 1,400 residents between drafts with no apparent explanation; a plan without confirmed water licenses; a plan that leaves critically important storm water planning until later; a plan that has mindboggling circuitous waste water piping; and a plan that leaves 5,800 residents on variants of septic systems. For the other 10,000 residents, they are proposing to use a scaled-up version of the water and waste water system used in Bragg Creek with its approximately 500 residents. GRASP has many riparian areas, wetlands and wildlife corridors. They need guaranteed protection not reliance on hopeful engineering.
GRASP will also cause havoc for traffic flows on Highway 1A. Its design calls for five new traffic lights between Bearspaw Road and Cochrane. These are in addition to its assumption that the province will upgrade Highway 1A on a timely basis to deal with general population growth. A plan that encompasses such a vast area and sizable population should include service roads and interchanges. But the cost of such infrastructure is much higher. To keep costs to the developer down, GRASP will turn a major transportation corridor into the equivalent of a city street.
The County’s motivation for rushing GRASP through appears to be to beat the city to the punch. This is blatant opportunism and fear-mongering. Calgary has recently approved new development plans for about 180,000 additional residents in its NW quadrant and has a number of development projects in its southern quadrants. These should be more than sufficient to absorb Calgary’s growth for the foreseeable future. Cochrane also has many plans in the works for its anticipated growth. While there may be some validity in fearing city densities atop a fragile provincial park, the city would, at least, bring proper infrastructure with it - both hard and soft. And, realistically, if the area is left to Calgary or Cochrane to develop neither is unlikely to do so for at least 20 – 30 years.
The Calgary Regional Partnership has come out against GRASP, writing to the Minister of Municipal Affairs describing GRASP as “not consistent with a sustainable approach to regional planning.” While the County has not released the formal responses from Calgary or Cochrane, since they are both members of the Calgary Regional Partnership, it is reasonable to assume that they are not supportive. Cochrane is worried about GRASP’s impact on its already strained infrastructure. Calgary is concerned about the negative impacts from any potential missteps above an environmentally sensitive area upstream from its major water supply.
Building on your neighbours’ doorsteps while disregarding their input or the impact your development may have on these neighbours cannot lead to a positive outcome. We saw what happened with Conrich when the County pushed ahead against objections from Calgary and Chestermere – they tried to annex and it has cost the County (taxpayers) hundreds of thousands in legal fees to fight back.
Rushing through a plan of this magnitude because there is fear of a Growth Management Board highlights the desperation that impacts many of the recent decisions made in this County. Residents deserve better. We deserve accountability and the assurance that this will not be yet another development that places the taxpayer on the hook for costs that should be covered by the developer. Instead, we are getting questionable planning. This is not something that residents or Council should buy-in to.