July Council Meetings update
Since our last update, Council held three meetings on July 14th, 21st, and 28th. These meetings dealt with a huge number of issues. Some of the key decisions were:
· Council is preparing to appeal the decision throwing out the sanctions imposed on Councillors Hanson, Kissel and Wright
· Council hammers the final nail into the coffin of its public advertising
· Springbank ASPs were given 1st reading – divided into two: North and South
· Bingham Crossing’s Phase 2 was approved, making way for a big box store in Springbank
· South Conrich / Cambridge Park commercial/light industrial development approved
· Multiple developer-funded commercial/industrial ASPs now underway
· Specialized municipality status application moving ahead
· Turning first reading of land use redesignation applications into a rubber stamp
· Revised Land Use Bylaw approved – to come into effect in September
Council to Appeal Sanctions Decision
The most newsworthy decision took all of 1½ minutes at the July 28th meeting. Council is preparing to appeal the judge’s decision that threw out the sanctions they imposed on Councillors Hanson, Kissel and Wright. We had hoped that the Council majority would be willing to accept the ruling and move forward in a more productive manner. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be how the majority wants this to unfold.
The decision to appeal the judge’s ruling appears to contradict the County’s position that, while the judge threw out the sanctions, their decision to impose the sanctions was justified. As we have pointed out elsewhere, the County’s version of the judge’s overall decision is highly questionable. However, it is difficult to understand how they expect ratepayers to buy into their plans to appeal a decision they are presenting as a victory.
Final nail in coffin of public advertising
Last November, Council decided to shift its public notifications from the traditional newspaper advertisements in Rocky View Weekly to posts on the County’s own website and Facebook page. On July 14th, Council eliminated the County’s final requirement for newspaper advertisement when it amended the Land Use Bylaw to no longer require newspaper advertising of approved development permits.
Rocky View Forward has spoken out loudly in opposition to these changes. The Municipal Government Act states that municipalities have a legal obligation to ensure that their public notices are likely to reach “substantially all” Rocky View residents. It is doubtful that this will occur under the County’s new policy.
Council claims it is focused on improving customer service. It is not clear how this change does that. Thumbing through Rocky View Weekly is a more readily available way to learn about what’s happening in the County than having to remember to regularly check the County’s website.
This change is also completely inconsistent with the County’s claims that it supports local business. Rocky View Weekly is our only source for local County-wide news. Residents should be able to expect that the County would put its money where its mouth is and continue spending the $60,000 per year on newspaper advertising. This is a drop in the bucket for the County, but a significant source of revenue for Rocky View Weekly.
Springbank ASPs Given 1st Reading
On April 28th, the revised Springbank ASP was tabled because Councillor McKylor felt it was “too big”. On July 28th, Administration presented two ASPs, having split the Springbank ASP down the middle with what appears to be an arbitrary, zigzag east/west line dividing Springbank into a North Springbank and South Springbank ASP.
A significant part of the public consultation undertaken in preparing the revised ASP focussed on whether there should be one or more ASPs for the area. The public response had been resoundingly in support of one ASP for the one Springbank community.
Staff indicated that they will be continuing to make revisions to the ASPs until the to-be-scheduled public hearing expected sometime in the fall. If you have concerns with the proposed ASPs, please send your comments to Jessica Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, be prepared to come out to the public hearing to have your voice heard. The new ASPs can be accessed on the County’s website here.
Bingham Crossing Phase 2 approved – big box store coming to Springbank
Bingham Crossing’s Phase 2 Master Site Development Plan was approved on July 14th. Phase 2 adds a big box store and provides the possibility for Bingham Crossing to move ahead with Phase 2 before Phase 1.
Cambridge Park Estates commercial/light industrial development approved
Despite one of the largest showings of opposition in recent memory, residents of Cambridge Park Estates in south Conrich are now facing the development of a commercial / light industrial park at the gateway into their community.
When residents bought their homes in Cambridge Park, the developer assured them that all four phases of the development would be residential.
Water servicing was also a controversial issue in this application. The developer was supposed to connect Cambridge Park Estates to the County’s potable water system when to became available, which was in 2016. At the public hearing, the applicant’s engineer stated that there is a proposed water solution for the entire south Conrich area. He said it would be coming to council shortly and that the water solution was dependent on this application’s approval.
To complicate the water issue, residents from the Prince of Peace seniors’ development, south of Cambridge Park, showed up supporting the application. They had been told they will get their long-promised piped water when the application was approved.
At the end of the June 23rd public hearing, Councillor Gautreau tabled the application until this water servicing report was received, which would then require an additional public hearing. We have seen no evidence that any such report has been presented to council; nor can we find any publicly available information.
On June 25th at council’s special meeting for the public hearing on the revised Land Use Bylaw, out of the blue Gautreau brought the application forward for further debate. After some confusion, it was retabled until July 14th. At that point it was approved without the need for the second public hearing that had been promised on June 23rd.
Then on July 28th council was presented with petitions from the Prince of Peace residents requesting a local improvement tax to cover their share of the costs for this water solution. These petitions had been submitted before the June 23rd public hearing. Administration confirmed that the Prince of Peace residents were told much earlier what their share of these costs would be. It is not clear why this information is available to some people, but not to everyone.
Multiple developer-funded ASPs
There has been an acceleration in developer-funded Area Structure Plans over the last few months. While there may be some logic in having developers pay for the County’s area structure plans, the County is supposed to retain control over land use planning since it is a core municipal responsibility.
Instead, Council appears to be willing to turn over its land use planning responsibilities to deep-pocketed landowners willing to pay to fast-track development of their lands. Three new area structure plans are now moving forward as developer-funded ASPs with only a cursory review by Council.
The new ASPs now in progress are all in east Rocky View – the Glenmore Trail ASP, the East Highway 1 ASP, and the Shepard Industrial ASP. Combined, these will add another 8,000 acres of commercial and industrial land in addition to the 20,000 acres of potential commercial / industrial development in the already approved Balzac East, Conrich, Janet and Omni ASPs.
One of the troubling aspects of this shift is that the County is giving the developer groups control over the technical studies for their ASPs. It is one thing to have developers pay for ASPs prepared to County standards. It is a completely different matter to let developers determine what standards are appropriate. This leaves Council with only the decision to approve or reject a final product – a highly questionable approach to fulfilling its land use responsibilities.
Worse, it seems that all that is necessary for Council to approve terms of reference for a new ASP is for a local Councillor to assert that there is demand in that area. Decisions to move ahead with these recent ASPs have not included any assessment of how the proposals fit with anticipated County growth. There has also been no evaluation of currently available land in already-approved ASPs. In other words, no consideration appears to have been given to anything other than the fact that these landowners are eager to fast-track development of their lands.
Rocky View’s Applying to become a Specialized Municipality
Not surprisingly, Council decided to move ahead with its plans to change Rocky View’s status from a rural to a specialized municipality. This change must be approved by the provincial government.
The initiative is based on the assertion that Rocky View is a mix of urban and rural areas that require greater flexibility to match taxation with service needs. Other than Langdon, it is difficult to identify current population centres that are large enough to support this assertion. While it is true that Langdon is big enough to be a town, as a rural municipality, Rocky View has the flexibility to require Langdon residents to already pay special taxes to cover additional services such as garbage collection.
We share the concerns of many residents that the County has not provided enough information to understand the potential advantages of the change. We also understand the suggestions from Rocky View’s urban neighbours that the proposal is premature.
Under the Municipal Government Act, the Minister must “invite comments” from the public before it makes its decision. It is not clear how the Minister will be doing this. We will let people know as soon as we hear anything.
Removing Council’s ability to debate first reading of land use redesignation applications
Deputy Reeve Schule, supported by Reeve Boehlke, have continued to express frustration when councillors ask questions at first reading of land use redesignation bylaws. Schule has repeatedly maintained that these should be rubber-stamped with no discussion.
Last year, Council changed its Procedure Bylaw to separate first reading from the associated public hearings. For many applications, this made more information available before the public hearing – a positive thing for residents. It also gave Council the ability to ask basic questions about the applications to ensure that the information being provided was clear, to request changes to the circulation area for specific applications, etc. The idea was that Council should use first reading to reject applications that have no hope of success at a public hearing because that would save both the applicants and Administration time and money. It is not clear how they can do this with no discussion.
On July 28th, Council decided to keep first reading separate from the public hearings, but to allow no debate or discussion of the application. The nonsensical nature of this decision was immediately demonstrated when Reeve Boehlke had legitimate questions about the Springbank ASPs which were being given first reading as the next item on their agenda.
Land Use Bylaw approved
The Land Use Bylaw had been tabled after the June 25th public hearing to permit Administration and Council to work on amendments to address some inconsistencies that had been identified at the hearing. On July 28th, Council approved the revised Land Use Bylaw. The revised Land Use Bylaw will come into effect as of September 8, 2020.