At its January 22nd meeting, Council approved re-opening the five-year old County Plan, even though it had been approved in 2013 with the expectation that it would apply for at least a decade.
Procedurally, the January 22nd Council meeting hit an all-time low. We know of no other occasion when councillors announced that they didn’t need to hear from staff before they made decisions. However, that was how Council’s discussion of options for re-opening the County Plan began. You can watch the County Plan discussion here – it starts at 48:00 minutes.
Reeve Boehlke, supported by Deputy Reeve Schule and Councillor McKylor, tried to skip staff’s report. Councillor McKylor went so far as to ask whether there was anything in the report beyond what was in the agenda package since council and, hopefully, the public would have already read that. Fortunately, Councillors Wright & Kissel insisted that they and the public wanted to hear Administration’s report.
In our opinion, this failed maneuver was incredibly disrespectful. Council had directed staff to prepare the material and now some of them didn’t think they needed to bother hearing from staff. The misplaced arrogance this implied was bad enough. But, it quickly became evident that many of them did not understand how to accomplish what they wanted to do.
Staff presented three alternatives – (1) a targeted review that would cover “quick fixes” to the County Plan; (2) a comprehensive review that would re-open the entire County Plan; or (3) a targeted review followed by a comprehensive review. Staff indicated that the terms of reference for the targeted review included items identified from input from councillors. Staff then emphasized that, if Council wanted to add other items to the targeted review, they needed to make amendments to change its terms of reference. That didn’t sound all that complicated.
Council’s discussion quickly clarified the motives of Schule, Kamachi, and McKylor. They want to add new growth areas to the County Plan, preferably now rather than later. Both Kamachi and McKylor insisted that development along Highway 8 should be included as an approved growth area as soon as possible. Schule was more focussed on Langdon-area expansions. But he also brought forward other potential development areas including Glenmore Trail East and Highway 1 West as business corridors. (Neither of these were even discussed at Council. This suggests that private discussions occurred between at least some of the councillors.)
Administration kept repeating that, while Council could add specific growth areas to the targeted review, doing so would trigger a review by the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board. Because that would slow down a targeted review and because these are substantive changes that require more extensive public consultations, Administration recommended that they should be part of a comprehensive review. In response, Kamachi, McKylor, and Schule continued to come up with new ways to ask the same questions, clearly hoping for a different answer. The entire process bordered on farcical.
It is completely inappropriate for councillors to lobby for the inclusion of specific development projects in the County Plan. As our new CAO pointed out, a comprehensive review is just that – it looks at everything, so there is no need for Council to identify specific projects they want included. It was troubling to see these councillors trying to manipulate the content of a revised County Plan. They clearly demonstrated their biases – so much for approaching future decisions with an open mind.
The other farcical aspect of the exercise was that, when the amendments were finally made, the specific additional growth areas were listed as items to be included in the comprehensive review, not the targeted review. So, having received clear guidance on how to achieve their desired objectives, they didn’t manage to get there. Kamachi’s subsequent apparent confusion regarding Highway 8 suggests that what Council approved may not have been the intended outcome for at least some of those who voted for the amendments.
From the perspective of County residents, the result was a better outcome than might have been. The targeted review will have less public involvement than the comprehensive review. In our opinion, Administration is correct – adding new growth areas is not a “quick fix”. It is a substantive change to the County Plan that should be part of meaningful consultations with residents and other stakeholders.
There are still issues in the targeted review that we believe go beyond “quick fixes”, but at least there are fewer of them. The issues we see as questionable in terms of whether they are “quick fixes” include removing the 10,000 population cap for hamlets, removing the definition of moderate residential growth, and loosening restrictions on business development outside ASPs – all changes pushed by Schule. These have significant implications for infrastructure upgrade costs, not to mention potential impacts on neighbouring municipalities.
As an aside, we cannot understand why Kamachi so strongly supports development along Highway 8. We would have thought that, as the Division 1 councillor, he would support Bragg Creek’s revitalization plans. It is not clear how encouraging substantial competing development, including significant commercial components, between Calgary and Bragg Creek can possibly benefit Bragg Creek.
Everyone needs to be aware of what is coming from this Council. It will be critically important for everyone to participate as fully as possible in the consultations and public hearings for all these planning reviews. Forewarned is forearmed – if you don’t support the changes to the County Plan that McKylor, Kamachi, and Schule are trying to push through, you need to make that clear.