Update on September Council Meetings
Council held two meetings in September on the 1st and the 22nd. The important issues are summarized below. Details on key items (identified in bold) are provided after the summary.
From the September 1st council meeting, the following items were noteworthy:
· Council is moving ahead to add even more land into commercial/industrial Area Structure Plans in east Rocky View – this time directing Administration to prepare terms of reference to expand the East Balzac ASP by 465 acres owned by one developer. Administration provided no clear answers to questions regarding what percentage of land in the East Balzac ASP remains undeveloped or, for that matter, in other recently approved ASPs on the east side of the County.
· Council approved $4.7 million in capital projects to be funded by the provincial Municipal Stimulus Program. These include road and pathway upgrades, a water connection for the Langdon Fieldhouse and, most interestingly, $2 million for detailed engineering and initial construction costs for an extension of the potable water system in east Rocky View.
· First readings included:
o Burnco’s application to redesignate 966 acres to expand its gravel pit west of Cochrane on Hwy 1A; and
o Harmony’s applications to amend its Direct Control bylaw to double the residential density in two of its development cells.
§ As a reminder, first reading does not indicate any level of approval, simply that a public hearing for the application will be scheduled for some future date.
The September 22nd council meeting included the following:
· Council approved two live-work redesignations in Division 4, one for a rental property owned by Councillor Gautreau, the other for his immediate neighbour.
· Council will be submitting a proposed resolution for the fall Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) convention asking RMA to lobby the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to create a process to resolve council disputes regarding sanctions and disqualifications that could be used in place of legal challenges.
· Council approved a borrowing bylaw for a Local Improvement Tax to pay for the Prince of Peace Village’s share of extending potable water servicing in east Rocky View.
For over a decade, Councillor Gautreau has been trying to redesignate a 20-acre residential rental property that he owns in Division 4. In 2009, in response to bylaw enforcement complaints, he applied to redesignate the property to run his porta-potty business. Then in 2015, he applied to turn it into an RV storage site. Due to opposition from neighbours, neither of these applications were approved.
In June 2019, using his position as a councillor, Gautreau introduced a Notice of Motion to create a new land use district for live/work properties in east-central Rocky View. Despite Administration’s recommendation that it required further study before being considered, Council approved Gautreau’s proposal as presented. The resulting land use district specifies that the primary use on live/work parcels is to be residential and that the parcels are to be located adjacent to industrial or commercial parcels.
When these two applications were scheduled for public hearings in January, Administration made it clear that the applications did not meet the requirements of the live/work land use district since the properties were “not located adjacent to development that is industrial or commercial in nature”. The applications were pulled from the January 28th council agenda with no explanation.
Even though the land use district definition has not changed, and only minor modifications were made to the intended business uses on the properties, Administration ignored its previous conclusions and recommended approval at the September 22nd meeting.
Many neighbouring residents opposed the applications citing issues they had experienced over the past decade with the businesses operated on these two parcels. Despite these objections, Council approved both live/work redesignations – one for Gautreau’s property and the other for his immediate neighbour’s property. Gautreau recused himself from both hearings.
Neither property is adjacent to an existing commercial or industrial parcel. Additionally, it is unclear how Administration can assert that the primary use for these parcels is residential. Half of each property will be used for business purposes; one-third will be used for stormwater ponds; leaving 15% - 20% as residential. It is not clear how residential can possibly be considered the primary use, especially given the fact that the stormwater pond is only required because of the business use on the property. Had the parcels remained residential, stormwater ponds would not be needed.
The live/work land use stipulates that any business operated on the property must directly involve a resident who lives on the property. However, it is not clear whether Administration intends to enforce this requirement since their response to questions on the issue was that “there is no requirement for the owner to live there, [rather] someone has to live there”.
Live/work, as its name implies, is an option for those who want to run their businesses (work) from where they reside (live). From the public hearing, it is clear that both applications deal with rental properties. In our view, this reality makes it more questionable that Administration may be willing to overlook the requirement that someone who lives on the property must be involved in its business activity.
Furthermore, the County Plan’s requirements for business development outside of approved ASPs states that such business development should have direct access to a paved County road. As Councillor Hanson pointed out, these parcels do not – their access is to a gravel road. Council has refused other applications for business development outside of approved ASPs because they did not have access to a paved road. However, for Gautreau and his neighbour, the majority chose not to follow the County Plan’s guidance.
In our assessment, these applications fail to meet key requirements of the newly created live/work land use district and of the County Plan. As a result, we spoke in opposition at the public hearing. We were appalled at Reeve Boehlke’s complete lack of decorum and civility during our presentation – rolling his eyes and sighing out loud. If that wasn’t bad enough, when the decision was made, Boehlke stated, “It is consistent with business development policies, if others interpret it differently, too bad!”
Worse, when the applications passed, with Councillors Hanson, Kissel and Wright in opposition, Boehlke commented “what a surprise”. From our perspective, Boehlke’s lack of professionalism was totally unsuitable for someone in his position. Boehlke’s attitude was particularly inappropriate in comparison to the far less pointed comments that resulted in the three councillors being sanctioned for lacking “courtesy and respect”.
Requesting Municipal Affairs to Create Process for Resolving Council Disputes
Speaking of sanctions, Council approved sending a proposed resolution to the Rural Municipalities of Alberta asking the province to establish a “simplified, intermediary process” to adjudicate councillor sanctions and disqualifications. This would be a first step to resolve such disputes to avoid going directly to court. As the staff report noted, “legal action is costly, time-consuming, and combative, which further exacerbates internal council tensions”. The motion passed unanimously.
Councillor Hanson brought forward a motion arising requesting that Administration be directed to contact Municipal Affairs to initiate mediation services; to reimburse Councillors Hanson, Kissel, and Wright for the back pay that was withheld as part of the overturned sanctions; and to cease all ongoing legal challenges against the three councillors.
The majority’s response to Hanson’s motion clearly indicates that they are not interested in minimizing costs or combative relationships on Council. After a hurried backroom discussion, Boehlke ruled Hanson’s motion out of order because it did not “directly relate” to the motion that had just been passed. It defies understanding how he reached that conclusion. It does, however, loudly signal that the majority has no interest in putting this matter behind them. In which case, sending the motion to the RMA appears somewhat hypocritical.
If they honestly believe in the merits of their resolution, why are they continuing with their appeal of the sanctions decision and their challenges against Councillor Wright? At the very least, why aren’t they willing to practice what they are proposing and take advantage of the well-established mediation services Municipal Affairs already provides? They refused to consider these mediation services when they imposed the sanctions – why are they still opposed to a mediated solution now?
As an important side note, we find it particularly appalling that Hanson, Kissel and Wright have not yet received their back pay. The judge clearly ruled that all the sanctions were unlawful. They have been reinstated to all their committees and they are now free to communicate with staff. So, why have they not received their back pay?
The unquestionable bias demonstrated by Boehlke’s decision to rule Hanson’s motion out of order became glaringly obvious two days later at the Municipal Planning Commission meeting. At the end of one of the subdivision decisions, Boehlke brought forward a motion arising that was unrelated to the decision that had just been made. When Councillor Wright questioned the admissibility of Boehlke’s motion arising, the CAO advised MPC that determining the acceptability of a motion arising was at the discretion of the chair. It is becoming increasingly apparent that there are clearly different rules for different people.
Extending Potable Water Servicing in east Rocky View
The project to extend potable water servicing in east Rocky View first came to light as part of the controversial public hearing dealing with the fourth phase of the Cambridge Park development in south Conrich in June 2020. That public hearing was initially tabled until Council received a water servicing report referred to by the applicant’s engineer during the public hearing. The fourth phase was then lifted from the table, in a highly questionable manner, and approved without the water servicing report being presented at a council meeting.
This water servicing report has still not been made public. When Wright asked when Council would be provided with a report on the overall project, Administration brushed off her question stating that extending water servicing was covered in the Conrich ASP and in some recent subdivision approvals. As a result, there is no publicly available information regarding the total cost of the project, how those costs will be allocated, or the area to be serviced by the extension.
Instead, Council has moved ahead in a piecemeal manner allocating $2 million of provincial stimulus funding to detailed engineering and initial construction costs. As well, they approved a $644,000 borrowing bylaw for the related Prince of Peace Village local improvement tax.
From our perspective, good governance requires that Council (and the public) should have details on the complete project before Council approved beginning the project’s construction or borrowing funds to pay for part of the project. This seems to be a serious case of putting the cart before the horse. Making decisions within isolated silos makes it difficult to understand the overall impacts and implications of the decisions Council is making.