On April 25th, Council unsurprisingly moved to approve the Glenbow Ranch Area Structure Plan (GRASP). While it only received 1st reading, there is little doubt that it will receive their stamp of approval when in comes back to Council for 2nd and 3rd reading on June 27th.
GRASP is a glaring example of what is so wrong in this County. Council took special pains to champion a proposal that benefits no one other than one large landowning family; a plan supported by no one other than those who will receive a direct financial benefit.
If no one was objecting, that would be bad enough; however, there is significant opposition. Many landowners within GRASP are deeply concerned about the potential negative impacts the plan will have on their properties. There is also immense resistance from residents in adjacent communities who are opposed to having high density neighbourhoods plunked down on their doorsteps. Then there are the many residents who oppose GRASP because of its lack of consistency with County policy, its innumerable serious technical deficiencies, and the severe risks it poses to such an environmentally sensitive area. The plan’s use of a financial impact assessment that staff refused to release also drew significant criticism.
The majority on Council either ignored, downplayed or belittled these concerns as they were raised by residents at the public hearing. Some Councillors were unmistakably rude to many of those speaking in opposition and went as far as to challenge some County residents’ right to speak on the issue.
Councillors Habberfield and Lowther seemed determined to silence those County residents who live outside of the “official” circulation area. Questions ranged from where do you live in relation to the plan to are you a resident or taxpayer and do you write your own speaking material. However, this same “courtesy” wasn’t extended to those who spoke in favour – though interestingly, none live in the County. If it wasn't obvious earlier that the fix was in – it certainly was by this point as the condescending tone or irrelevant nature of some of the Councillors’ questions made it evident which direction the vote was heading.
Most of the concerns raised by those residents in opposition were raised not only at the hearing but repeatedly throughout the process. To date, none of these concerns have been addressed or resolved. In fact, for property owners in Mountain Ridge, the community on the west edge of GRASP, the County not only ignored their requests to maintain the status quo (a privilege granted to the Coyote Valley community), the final draft went so far as to double the allowable density in their community. This was after the original draft claimed that densities could not be increased due to the restrictive topography of the lands.
The reason GRASP only received first reading is due to motions brought forth by Division 8’s Councillor Lowther. Over 100 residents from his division signed letters objecting to the high- density communities being proposed immediately adjacent to their country residential communities and to the proposed access road out of GRASP through their community.
Asking staff to report back on the feasibility of reducing the densities in the two eastern-most development cells in GRASP can only be viewed as naïve or disingenuous. Staff has repeatedly emphasized that GRASP needs the proposed densities in these two areas, as well as in the core hamlet area, to make the water / waste water infrastructure cost-effective. It is difficult to imagine how, at this late date, the economics of that infrastructure could miraculously change.
Rocky View Forward has serious concerns about developer-paid ASPs like GRASP. When the developer is paying all the costs, it is hard not to be skeptical when the policy supports exactly what the developer wants to do. These concerns were graphically illustrated in the last-minute policy change to increase densities that lead planner, Richard Barss, repeatedly justified as resulting from the landowners’ need to improve their profitability.
Perhaps the most distressing part of the hearing was the Councillors’ summations. As Councillor Bahcheli noted, many of the Councillors appeared to have been at a different public hearing.
Some of the choice comments from Councillors who supported GRASP included:
· In describing the Transferrable Development Credits, Councillor Habberfield noted – “it might work or it might not work, but if we don’t try, how will we know?”
· Councillor Ashdown, after thanking the Harvie family for having donated their land for the Provincial Park, indicated that he believed GRASP “was the normal next step in that process.”
· Councillor Breakey called GRASP, which all but eliminates 50% of Bearspaw's total agricultural lands, "innovative and courageous" and insisted that it shows nothing but "respect for the land". Despite acknowledging the "devil is in the details", almost all of which are currently lacking, Breakey referred to GRASP as "brilliant planning".
· Councillors Solberg and Kendall appear to both support GRASP on the logic that Calgary or Cochrane (the “bogeymen”) would do much worse if Rocky View didn’t beat them to the punch.
Thankfully some balance was offered by Councillors Arshinoff and Bahcheli, the only Councillors to vote against 1st reading. Councillor Arshinoff was quick to remind everyone of the number of immediate and adjacent landowners who stated loudly and clearly, and with valid reason, that they did not want GRASP. He called the plan “hypocritical” and stated that he found developer paid ASPs “go against every concept of fairness”. While Councillor Bahcheli echoed these sentiments, she took it one step further by reminding everyone in her sobering comment "developing land is not a right; it is a privilege." A lesson all too often forgotten by the majority of this Council.