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January 2022 Council Update

Council held two regular meetings and one special meeting in January. They also held a special meeting on February 1st the outcome of which raises some questions about next steps for Council’s earlier decision to withdraw the appeal of the sanctions decision.

The main decisions from Council’s regular January meetings were:

  • To provide further direction on outstanding Area Structure Plans:

    • Put the Bearspaw ASP and amendments to the Bragg Creek ASP dealing with its hamlet expansion area on hold

    • Directed Admin to move forward with amendments to the Conrich ASP to provide guidance on its future planning area

  • To start the process to dissolve the Municipal Planning Commission

Council also gave preliminary approval to the 2022 operating and capital budget at their two-day special meeting in mid-January. We will send out a separate email on the budget, but the key take-home message is that there will be a 4% increase in taxes, which means if the relative value of your property has remained unchanged, you should expect a 4% increase in your property tax bill.

Decision to Withdraw Appeal of the Sanctions Decision May Have Hit a Bump in the Road

Council’s special meeting on February 1st discussed, yet again, the fate of the previous council’s decision to appeal the trial court’s decision to throw out the sanctions that had been imposed on Councillors Hanson, Kissel and Wright. The three of them correctly recused themselves from the discussion.

After a motion to continue the appeal failed at Council’s November 30th meeting, we had assumed the appeal was dead. However, clearly there was some discomfort with the nature of that motion and at its December 7th council meeting there was another in camera session to discuss the appeal. Following that session, council directed Administration to withdraw the appeal “subject to the conditions deemed acceptable to the CAO as directed by council in the closed session”.

We assumed that this was just a procedural nicety – providing positive rather than negative direction to Administration. However, at the February 1st special meeting, the four members of council who can participate in these decisions unanimously decided to reject a “counteroffer” from Hanson, Kissel and Wright. Although our experience shows that making assumptions on this issue is risky, the rejection of a “counteroffer” suggests that there is disagreement on whatever “conditions” were outlined in the December 7th closed session.

Since there was no further direction provided at the February 1st meeting and no discussion after the closed session, we appear to be left with two alternatives. Either the undisclosed “conditions” from the December 7th motion provide enough leeway to still allow everyone to find a solution within those “conditions” or the County is proceeding with the appeal, which is scheduled for early March.

We sincerely hope it is the former option since, from our perspective, no one “wins” if this goes back to court – everyone loses. Regardless of who “won” the appeal, what’s the point? The sanctions expired long ago. The majority of the councillors who imposed them were defeated in the October election. The CAO who encouraged that majority to impose the sanctions jumped ship. Voters in the October election sent a clear message that they wanted an end to the biases and bickering of the previous council.

From our perspective, probably most importantly reason to resolve this as quickly as possible is that until it is resolved it will be far more difficult for this council to move forward as a unified whole to implement any of the positive agenda that they were elected to deliver. As a retired litigation lawyer said, litigation always looks backwards and diverts energy that could be spent moving forward.

Bearspaw ASP and Bragg Creek ASP’s Hamlet Expansion Amendments Put on Hold While Conrich ASP’s Future Policy Area Amendments Proceed

In a continuation of its requests for guidance on work that had been initiated under the previous council, Administration brought forward the Bearspaw ASP, the amendments to the Bragg Creek ASP to provide land use policies for its hamlet expansion area, and amendments to the Conrich ASP to provide land use policies for the area that had been set aside as its future policy area.

Council decided to stop work on both the Bearspaw ASP and the amendments to the Bragg Creek ASP until after the province has made its decision on the CMRB’s Regional Growth Plan. In contrast, they directed Administration to finalize the land use policies for Conrich’s future policy area. The apparent inconsistency in those decisions reflects council’s experience dealing with many applications seeking land use redesignations in the Conrich future planning area combined with the reality that the Conrich amendments are almost complete. In contrast, the Bearspaw ASP is in its early stages and there have been substantive development approvals in Bragg Creek since the hamlet expansion project began that should be reflected in its process.

The Municipal Planning Commission (MPC) will be eliminated

One of the major initiatives introduced by former CAO Al Hoggan had been to create the Municipal Planning Commission – a committee of all of council other than the one councillor who chairs the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board. MPC was given responsibility for the subdivision decisions that had previously been made during council meetings and for most of the development permit decisions that had been made by Administration. The logic for creating MPC had been that it would lighten Council agendas and would reduce appeals of development permits since MPC could exercise discretion in relaxing development permit conditions, something that Administration could not do.

When MPC was originally established, there had been an acknowledgement that the division of responsibility for development permits probably shifted more than was optimal to MPC, but the reasoning was that MPC needed some experience before it could draw the line more appropriately. That review never took place. Instead, Administration came forward recommending that MPC be dissolved with subdivision decisions divided between council and Administration and development permit decisions returned to Administration.

Administration has found that MPC added significant workload demands without making apparent improvements from a customer service perspective. Council clearly agreed and concurred with Administration’s recommendation to eliminate MPC. How subdivision decisions will be divided between council and Administration will be finalized when Administration brings back its detailed recommendations for the changes needed to dissolve MPC.

We are somewhat concerned that Administration’s recommendations may delegate too much of the subdivision authority to it rather than leaving them with our elected officials. This is a particular concern where technical issues are not discussed in Council’s land use redesignation public hearings on the “logic” that such details should be determined at subdivision. We have never been comfortable with that approach since determining whether a proposed land use is technically feasible seems to be an essential part of deciding whether the proposed use is suitable. As a result, so long as technical detail is deferred to the subdivision stage, we believe it is important that council retains the decision-making authority to consider those technical issues themselves.


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