Update on June Council Decisions
Significant decisions from the first three meetings in June include:
The Ascension application at the south-west corner of Hwy 1A and 12 Mile Coulee Road in Bearspaw was given second reading and is being sent to the CMRB.
Harmony’s concept scheme was amended to permit an increase of almost 1,000 units, and to construct a new access route to Range Road 33.
Council expense reports will become publicly available – after the October election.
Council denied the Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation board’s request to allow parking on Glenbow Road during this year’s park season.
Ascension Commercial / Residential Development
Despite uniform opposition from area residents and from the City of Calgary, Council gave the Ascension concept scheme second reading in a 6 / 3 vote, with Councillors Wright, Kissel, and Hanson in opposition. The application will now go to the CMRB for its review.
At the June 1st public hearing, Wright’s motion to refuse the application was defeated 6 / 3. Second reading was then tabled until June 15th to give Administration time to review three alternative access routes presented by the applicant during the public hearing. The original concept scheme proposed to open access to both Bearspaw Road South and Bearspaw Village Road. The developer’s alternatives were to open access only to Bearspaw Road and/or to provide only emergency access to one or both of the existing local roads.
The staff report assessing the alternative access routes emphasized that there was a requirement to provide at least three routes in/out of the proposed development because of its size. They based this assertion on a policy statement from the U.S. National Fire Protection Association. However, when questioned by Wright, it became evident that this policy statement has no statutory authority in Rocky View, let alone in Canada. Rocky View’s servicing standards require a maximum of two access routes, one of which can be an emergency-only access.
Wright proposed one of the developer’s alternatives that provided only emergency access beyond the primary 12 Mile Coulee access; but that was defeated in a 5 / 4 vote. From our perspective, it is telling that the developer was willing to present options more favourable to the existing community than the council majority was willing to accept.
Instead, Council approved creating a permanent access to Bearspaw Road South as an immediate second route in/out of the development and having the Bearspaw Village Rd entry point as emergency access only. At the public hearing, residents raised significant concerns about the feasibility of the Bearspaw Road route given its impact on the school and existing residents and the steep grade between the end of the existing road and the proposed extension to the Ascension development. It was also repeatedly noted that the Bearspaw ASP explicitly states that Bearspaw Road South should remain a road for local traffic only and not be upgraded to provide access to Hwy 1A. There is no doubt that Ascension’s proposed densities will require upgrading the road.
The majority on council chose to ignore these issues. It is not clear how it can be appropriate to impose such negative impacts on a long-established community to facilitate the creation of a new community, especially when the existing community was so strongly opposed. The result is even worse when you remember that when similar routing was proposed for the Glenbow Ranch ASP, it was amended to protect the existing communities and push new traffic through the Ascension lands.
In supporting the option to extend Bearspaw Road, Boehlke asserted that it was unreasonable to “close public roads”. His comment defies understanding since all the options involve building new roads or access routes, not closing any existing roads.
We are also somewhat baffled by Council’s willingness to approve the Ascension project when they had so recently rejected the Damkar application. Damkar had proposed four 2 – 4 storey apartment buildings, with a total of 350 units on 12 acres, just south of Ascension. If that was unacceptable, how can it be appropriate to approve a development that includes 300 seniors’ units on 10 acres? Then there’s the 50 acres for 350,000 square feet of commercial, and 60,000 square feet of office space, and the proposed 580 houses on the remaining 150 acres. It makes one wonder whether it is relevant that the president of Ascension’s development group gets taken to lunch by Boehlke and was hand picked by then-CAO Hoggan to sit on the County’s Economic Recovery Task Force.
Harmony’s Concept Scheme Amended
Throughout the year, Harmony’s developers have been tinkering with its concept scheme, making changes to the mix of housing units that will be available in the community. On June 8th, Harmony brought forward three substantive changes to its concept scheme:
· Increasing the maximum number of housing units from 3,500 to 4,480
· Constructing a new eastbound access route through the north-east corner of the Springbank Airport connecting to Range Road 33, and
· Detailing the “neighbourhood” plans for the remainder of its community.
What is most noteworthy about these changes is how little substance was required to support them. It is inconceivable that a stand-alone application for 980 housing units and/or a substantive new road network could be brought forward without a thorough assessment of servicing, traffic, stormwater, etc. In this case, none of these were included in staff’s review of the application. As a result, this appears to be a glaring illustration of the risks of scope creep.
Councillor Expense Reports
Councillors Kissel and Hanson introduced a notice of motion to have councillor expense reports officially released starting from the beginning of this Council’s term in October 2017, on the logic that such disclosure is consistent with Council’s Strategic Plan objectives to improve accountability and transparency. As Kissel pointed out, at least 59 Alberta municipalities already routinely post this information on their websites.
From our perspective, council’s debate on this motion was surreal, if not farcical. Not one councillor objected to releasing his or her own expense reports. However, despite those assertions, in a 6 / 3 vote, the majority refused to post this information on the county website. Instead, as Kissel pointed out, they “hijacked” the purpose of the original motion and instead passed a motion that will only require future councils to do so.
Deputy Reeve McKylor stated that while she had no problem sharing her expense forms, she wasn’t sure that it would be appropriate as she had never been formally trained on how to fill them out. Councillor Schule raised similar concerns about the proper approach when one councillor claimed expenses for car-pooling or meals that applied to multiple councillors. Their comments beg the question of why they didn’t raise these concerns earlier.
As was noted by Kissel, it is difficult to understand why the current majority isn’t willing to hold themselves to the same standard that they see as appropriate for those who succeed them.
Parking at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park
In response to road safety concerns, the County, in conjunction with Alberta Parks, posted “no parking” signs on both sides of Glenbow Road for the length of the road leading south from Hwy 1A to the Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park entrance.
The Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation approached the County asking that parking be permitted on one side of the road since their on-site parking lot was not sufficient to handle the increased visitors since COVID. Staff’s report indicated that they were engaged in discussions with both the Park Foundation and Alberta Parks to see if there were alternative safe solutions. Their recommendation was to continue those discussions.
At the beginning of the agenda item, Deputy Reeve McKylor informed council that she sits on the Park Foundation’s board but that her participation in the discussion would focus on the best interests of the county. Given that statement, we found it noteworthy that throughout council’s discussion, she repeatedly made comments clearly intended to push the debate in favour of the Park Foundation’s request. In the end, council followed staff’s recommendation, so parking will remain unchanged at least until the ongoing review is completed.