Council Update: April - May 2022
Council has held four meetings since our last update. Overall, council’s tone and the quality of its decisions continue to be a refreshing change from the previous council. In addition to a number of reasonable, small-scale land use decisions, the major decisions from these meetings include:
Initiation of a review of the live/work land use designation
Refusal of changes that would have legitimized short term vacation rentals in the Cottage Club community west of Cochrane on Hwy 1A
Approval of Bridges of Langdon’s Phase 2
Resolution of the previously controversial Cambridge Park Cell D development plans
Mixed messaging on solar farms
Bingham Crossing’s proposed Costco development sent back to Administration
Review of Live / Work Land Use Designation
The previous council created the live/work land use district to facilitate commercial and industrial businesses operating on what would otherwise be residential properties in east-central Rocky View.
This land use district has been problematic since its inception, with the “rules” governing its applicability being inconsistently applied. In response to those issues, Councillor Wright and Deputy Mayor Kissel brought forward a motion to review the live/work land use district and the possibility of expanding home-based business permits to accommodate a broader range of business operations. Council unanimously supported directing Administration to undertake this review and to report back in mid-September.
From our perspective, this review is long overdue. We have never understood why the live/work land use district was created rather than establishing more flexible home-based business rules that would permit operations that are bigger than the existing rules envision but still small enough to rationally be conducted as a sideline on a residential property.
Cottage Club – No Short-term Vacation Rentals
Cottage Club is a gated community of 350 – 400 cottages with shared recreation facilities located east of the Ghost Lake Reservoir.
The Direct Control bylaw that established the community does not permit short-term vacation rentals. However, a small number of owners have been renting their cottages through short-term vacation rental companies. These owners, who have faced bylaw enforcement issues, applied for amendments to add short-term vacation rentals to the community’s DC bylaw.
Administration recommended approving the amendments on the logic that Rocky View’s residential land use districts include short-term vacation rentals as a discretionary use. However, council saw things differently. From their perspective, direct control districts are used for developments that don’t “fit” the standard land use districts. As area councillor Kissel pointed out, none of Rocky View’s residential communities that are governed by direct control bylaws have short-term vacation rentals as a permitted or discretionary use. Wright also pointed out that the shared recreation facilities made the community different from standard residential parcels. In standard residential parcels increased maintenance costs from short-term renters are borne entirely by the owner benefiting from the short term rentals, in a community like Cottage Club those costs are shared amongst all owners.
From our perspective, council made the right decision. If the community’s condominium board supported the application, it might have made sense to amend the DC bylaw. A small minority of owners who have ignored the rules should not be able to change those rules to their personal advantage without support from the majority in their community.
Bridges of Langdon – Phase 2 Approved
The Bridges of Langdon mixed-use residential community in Langdon was originally approved in 2016. This application increased the number of residential units by 40 to a total of 1,307 and relocated the proposed commercial area from Phase 2 to a later phase.
From the developer’s presentation, the development is selling well and the proposed changes address market shifts since the original approvals. Except for the fact that Councillor Schule pushed for an earlier public hearing date for this developer who supported his re-election campaign, the application and its approval would have not been noteworthy.
Cambridge Park – Revised Land Use Redesignation Approved for Cell D
One of the previous council’s controversial land use decisions involved the final phase of the Cambridge Park Estates residential community in east Rocky View.
As a refresher, in selling homes in the earlier phases, Cambridge Park’s developer had “promised” that the entire development would be a country residential community. In June 2020, the developer applied to redesignate the final phase to commercial / light industrial land uses. At the end of a heated public hearing, then area Councillor Gautreau tabled the public hearing to await a report on potable water servicing. Then two days later, with support from the council majority, he suspended elements of the procedure bylaw to rescind the tabling motion. The commercial/light industrial redesignation was subsequently approved.
In November 2021, the newly-elected council was presented with a revised redesignation application for the same property – this time requesting redesignation of part of it to residential and local commercial, leaving the rest as the earlier redesignated commercial/light industrial land use, but promising to redesignate the remainder later. Council tabled the November 2021 public hearing, directing Administration to work with the applicant and the community to bring back a comprehensive redesignation plan for the entirety of Cell D.
Administration deserves praise for their work bringing the developer and the community together so that when the final redesignation application came forward at the May 31st council meeting, it was approved unanimously, with solid support from existing Cambridge Park residents.
Council Sends Mixed Messages on Solar Farms
At its April 26th meeting, Council unanimously turned down an application to convert 640 acres of farmland in Division 5 to a solar farm. A number of area farmers opposed the application on the logic that the land in question was highly productive agricultural land. While solar farms appear to provide a sound alternative energy source, using prime agricultural land for such endeavours is almost certainly suboptimal.
In contrast, council’s May 31st decision to refuse the development permit application for a different solar farm in south-east Rocky View was somewhat questionable. In February 2019, the previous council approved the necessary land use redesignation. The redesignation application had support from area residents, with the only letter of opposition coming from a Langdon resident who opposed solar power in principle.
Council’s reasons for refusing the development permit were somewhat obscure. Councillors Boehlke, Kissel, Schule and Mayor Kochan raised concerns about decommissioning / reclamation at the end of the solar farm’s operation. Although staff assured council that orderly decommissioning of solar power sites was the province’s responsibility, their assurances do not appear to have been sufficient to sway the majority, with only Councillors Hanson, Samra, and Wright supporting approval of the development permit.
We find it somewhat hypocritical that many councillors appear willing to ignore reclamation issues for gravel pits on the logic that such issues are the province’s responsibility. However, for a solar farm, where the entire operation is on the surface and does not materially alter the long-term characteristics of the land, concerns about reclamation are sufficient to deny the development permit.
Since solar power is a growing energy source, it would seem prudent for this council to develop a more in-depth understanding of how such operations are regulated and to determine a consistent approach to assessing land use suitability and development permit requirements for such operations.
Costco Development Permit Sent Back for Further Work
On May 25th, the Municipal Planning Commission (MPC) considered the development permit for a 168,000 sq. ft. Costco store at the Bingham Crossing site at Range Road 33 and Hwy 1. Administration identified several significant inconsistencies between Costco’s proposed development permit and Bingham Crossing’s Concept Scheme and Master Site Development Plan.
In a 3 – 2 vote, supported by Hanson, Kochan, and Wright, the Costco application was sent back to staff for further work. MPC’s direction left the window open for Costco to modify its development permit, which would not require a public hearing. However, if the plan cannot be made to fit within the existing Concept Scheme, then a public hearing will be triggered. It is somewhat difficult to understand how anything close to a “standard” Costco store could be made consistent with core components of the existing Concept Scheme which provides for a village-style retail and seniors housing development. Boehlke and Schule both indicated that Costco’s development permit should be approved as proposed since to do otherwise would stifle business.