The key decisions from Rocky View’s May 26th virtual council meeting were:
· Deferring indefinitely $226,206 in Transportation Offsite Levies for Harmony
· Tabling the proposed ASP for East Highway 1 corridor
· Approving terms of reference for the ASP for East Glenmore Trail
· Postponing yet again a decision on facilitating improved internet service
· Holding the first virtual public hearings – noncontroversial, but not without glitches
Harmony wins deferral of Transportation Offsite Levy (TOL) for local park
While we can understand the appeal of supporting badly needed recreation facilities in the County, it is not entirely clear that deferring the payment of TOLs indefinitely is the best way to do this.
Harmony’s developers are building a 14-acre park and asked that the associated TOL be waived. Their logic was that the park will be used locally and, therefore, will not generate any incremental traffic. This may be true. However, someone has to pay for the incremental roads needed for Harmony. The TOL calculations assume that all land involved in a development pay the TOL. By excluding this recreation land, less TOLs will be collected from Harmony than assumed. If this isn’t part of Harmony’s development costs, County’s ratepayers will be on the hook for any shortfall.
The discussion highlighted problems resulting from the exclusion of the three sanctioned councillors from committees. Before the creation of the Municipal Planning Commission (MPC), this deferral would have been part of a regular council meeting. Now that subdivision issues are delegated to MPC, Council only decides on MPC’s recommendations to waive or defer levies. The sanctioned councillors cannot participate in MPC. They can only ask questions at council meetings. When they do ask questions, other councillors and Administration criticize them arguing that MPC has already made the decision. Their criticism suggests that Council’s role in levies is simply a rubber stamp formality.
Councillor-sponsored ASPs in East Rocky View – One approved; one tabled
Late last year, Deputy Reeve Al Schule and Councillor Jerry Gautreau introduced proposals for two new Area Structure Plans on the east side of the County – the East Highway 1 ASP which covers 3,850 acres on the south side of Highway 1 between Chestermere and Wheatland County and the Glenmore Trail ASP which covers just under 2,500 acres between Range Roads 274 and 282. Administration returned with terms of reference and budgets for the two ASPs.
It appeared that many on Council were expecting that both these ASPs would be paid for by the participating landowners. However, Administration recommended, after discussions with the affected landowners, to have the costs split 50/50 – half from the landowners and half from the County’s Tax Stabilization Reserve. The County's costs will be $265,000 for the East Highway 1 ASP and $145,000 for the Glenmore Trail ASP. While the County will fund 50% of the costs, the participating landowners will have 100% responsibility for preparing the ASPs, except for inter-municipal issues. As Councillor Hanson pointed out, this gives the County little say in developing the ASPs’ details for its 50% financial stake.
The Glenmore Trail ASP terms of reference and funding were approved after last minute manoueuvring by Gautreau. The proposed East Highway 1 ASP was tabled until late September in hopes that more landowner funding could be obtained. As Reeve Boehlke indicated, it set a bad precedent to ask landowners to pay the full amount only to settle for them paying half with the County paying the other half.
The real question with both these ASP proposals is why the CAO and Administration have never recommended that they be evaluated under Council’s Policy 322. Part of the CAO’s responsibilities is to ensure that Council is aware of its own policies before it makes decisions. Policy 322 sets out the process for evaluating and ranking new ASPs and revisions to existing ASPs and provides for the annual review of these rankings. The policy’s intention is to ensure that new areas are opened up for development in a manner that is consistent with the County Plan and that new and/or revised ASPs will meet basic requirements.
In response to questions from Council, staff did not know how much approved but not yet developed commercial and industrial land is already available in the area or in the County overall. They also could not identify how many landowners would be included in the two ASPs in comparison to the number that had volunteered to help pay for them. This information would have been part of an assessment of the proposals under Policy 322.
Action to improve internet service in RVC delayed yet again
As we mentioned in our last update, in December 2018 Councillors Hanson and Wright introduced a notice of motion to investigate options for improving internet servicing in Rocky View. That initiative was replaced by a larger proposal dependent on receiving a matching provincial grant which did not materialize. At the May 12th council meeting, after council killed the bigger project, Councillors Hanson and Wright attempted to revitalize their earlier initiative only to have it tabled until May 26th because of confusion on the part of some councillors over their proposal.
Unfortunately, even though Hanson and Wright clarified and narrowed the scope of their motion, the CAO and some on council continued to claim they did not understand. We have to agree with Hanson’s comments to the CAO – what is so complicated about a request that Administration hire a consultant to develop a template to promote internet connectivity in the urban fringe areas of the County; that Administration continue to advocate with internet service providers for improved connectivity in those areas; and that Administration work with these communities to assist in creating a critical mass to facilitate improved service levels.
When some on council suggested a workshop, the CAO balked claiming staff were already overworked – an interesting perspective given that the county offices were largely shut down for over a month and are still not fully open. It is not clear whether the CAO doesn’t support trying to improve internet service in Rocky View or whether he objects to the proposal because it is from two of the sanctioned councillors. In either case, his unwillingness was noticeable. Despite the CAO’s objections, council decided to have a workshop on the issue. With any luck, council might finally decide to do something to help County residents on this issue by mid-late fall.
Council’s first virtual public hearings
There were three straight-forward land use redesignation public hearings on the agenda. While all three applications were approved, there were apparent weaknesses in the process. Two of the three applicants had difficulty connecting to the on-line meeting. Given that many municipalities are successfully holding public hearings under the Covid-19 restrictions, we had expected Administration to be sure all applicants clearly understood the process and were not having difficulties with the technology.
Hopefully, Administration will learn from this experience and future public hearings will proceed more smoothly.