Update on Council decisions
Since our last update on council decisions, Council held two meetings – March 23rd and April 13th. We’d like to draw your attention to the following highlights:
· Council moves to weekly meetings
· County to purchase both the Blazer water system and the Horse Creek water and wastewater systems
· Second reading given to Qualico’s commercial and high-density residential development at Hwy 1 / Old Banff Coach Road
· Council decides to do PR campaign about the impacts of the CMRB
· County Executive Director Kent Robinson appointed as Acting CAO
Weekly council meetings
On March 23rd, council decided to shift to weekly meetings so it could hold as many public hearings as possible. Not surprisingly, one of their key reasons was that many applicants strongly preferred to have their applications heard by this council.
Consistent with its ongoing efforts to appease as many major landowners as possible, the council majority chose to ignore staff’s advice to schedule only one additional meeting per month. Previous councils have never taken this approach. Applications have always been dealt with on as timely a basis as is practical, but without such an unseemly rush to ram things through before an election.
County moves to buy water and wastewater utilities
Also on March 23rd, Council gave first reading to two borrowing bylaws to finance the purchase of the Blazer water utility and the Horse Creek water and wastewater utility. Total borrowing will be $19.5 million. Anticipated deficits of at least $3.3 million over the next 3 – 4 years will also need to be covered by the County.
The information presented to council to support these decisions was woefully inadequate. For Blazer, the only real information provided was that the County has the right of first refusal and Blazer wants to sell the utility. For Horse Creek, Council had earlier directed Administration to act as an intermediary to facilitate the area developers purchasing the utility. When asked how this became the County purchasing the utility, Administration’s response was that was how the negotiations worked out. The minimal information makes it is impossible to determine whether these are prudent investments. Only time will tell, but it is difficult not to be somewhat skeptical.
Council gives its blessing to Qualico’s development at Highway 1 and Old Banff Coach Road
Despite extensive, unanimous opposition from area residents and overwhelming inconsistencies with existing county policy, in a 6-3 decision, the council majority gave second reading to Qualico’s Hwy 1 / Old Banff Coach Rd application. Concerns about traffic impacts, the lack of transition, and insufficient public engagement were ignored. Councillors Hanson, Kissel and Wright were opposed.
The massive 800,000 square foot commercial and 14 – 20 units/acre residential development will extend Qualico’s development in Calgary’s Crestmont community into Rocky View. So much for maintaining Rocky View’s unique country residential character.
From our perspective, this application had so many flaws that its approval can only mean one thing – the council majority is willing to turn a blind eye to whatever is necessary to “get to yes” in satisfying its development backers. The application will be sent to the CMRB for its review and approval. At this point, it is not possible to predict how the CMRB will decide. However, it may be worth noting that Calgary’s request to work collaboratively with the County to resolve their concerns with the application was once again dismissed.
Communicating Council’s position on the CMRB’s Regional Growth Plan
At its April 13th meeting, council waived provisions of its Procedure Bylaw to permit Councillor Boehlke to bring forward an emergent notice of motion. His motion requested that Administration initiate a communication strategy with County residents to inform them of what are, in his opinion, the “negative effects” the Regional Growth Plan will have on landowner rights.
It is not clear how this qualified as an “emergency”. The CMRB has been working on its Regional Growth Plan for the last two years and must submit the Plan to the province for its approval by June 1, 2021. The CMRB held three rounds of public engagement – the first in July 2020, the second in November 2020, and the third in March – April 2021. If the County was going to inform its residents about the CMRB, we would have thought that it should have been done long ago. To do so now is akin to closing the barn door after the horses have already left.
In any case, Council debated the issue and directed Administration to prepare a communication plan for its May 4th meeting that informs ratepayers on the aspects of the Growth Plan that may have an impact on their landowner rights. Thankfully, the direction to Administration removed the biased emphasis of only informing residents about the negative effects. We can now look forward to the County providing residents with their version of the impacts of the CMRB’s regional growth plan sometime in May.
Kent Robinson Acting CAO effective April 13th
On April 13th, Council formally accepted Al Hoggan’s resignation from his position as Rocky View’s CAO and appointed Executive Director Kent Robinson as Acting CAO.
Hoggan submitted his resignation on April 1st with an obligation to provide a minimum of three months’ notice. Council chose to cut that notice period short. The interesting question is whether council paid Hoggan the outstanding 2½ months salary or whether he forfeited that pay to start his new job in Bonnyville on May 3rd.
The County’s website states that releasing Hoggan from his contract early “was in the best interests of continuity”. We struggle to understand how that makes sense. We would have thought that ensuring a smooth transition for ongoing projects Hoggan had been involved with would take more than the five business days between his notice and departure. Since Hoggan appeared to have solid support from council, Council’s choice to waive the standard notice period leaves three unresolved possibilities – that Hoggan had lost council’s support, that he walked away from 2 ½ months salary, or that the majority were, in effect, willing to pay him a bonus on leaving.