ROCKY VIEW FORWARD
The Residents' Perspective
Old material from "What's New" page
Genesis-Omni developer funded ASP
Work is proceeding at the County on the developer-funded ASP for Genesis’ Omni commercial development project, northwest of Conrich. The terms of reference for the ASP were approved in December and an open house was held in early March 2017. This project went against RV planning staff recommendations and against County Plan policy since there is no servicing capacity for the intended project. But, since the work is being paid for by the developer, it is moving full steam ahead with the draft ASP scheduled to be released in June 2017 and the final ASP to be brought before Council for its approval before the fall municipal election.
According to the County, feedback received at its open houses was almost unanimously opposed to the commercial/industrial development being proposed in the ASP. So, this looks to be a second developer-paid ASP where the only support is coming from the landowners who stand to profit from its approval.
The ramifications for the County if Council approves this ASP go far beyond the boundaries of Division 5 where it is located.
According to the cost estimates in Omni’s Servicing Strategy, the costs to upgrade the East RV water / waste water systems to service Omni will be $183.7 million, $166.8 million of which it is assumed will be collected through future off-site levies. One can only hope that collection of these off-site levies will be more successful than those from the existing East RV infrastructure (a decade after its construction the existing infrastructure still needs to collect over $86 million of the $135 million it took to build).
The prospect of the County taking on an additional $166.8 million in debt is staggering enough. However, the actual cost of servicing the Omni development appears to be seriously underestimated. Omni’s costing is based on 2016 actual utilization rates plus its own requirements. This appears to ignore the fact that much of the currently underutilized capacity has already been legally committed to others.
In addition to these infrastructure costs, there will also be significant costs associated with storm water management since this is an area that has historically been prone to flooding. The ASP assumes that Omni will connect to the regional storm water management system at an additional cost of $31.6 million. This is despite the fact that the regional storm water system still has no approvals to move forward, has been years in the planning, and has not included the Omni area in its plans. Very little detail is provided on interim storm water solutions, other than assuming significant on-site reuse of storm water.
One should not forget that Councillors Solberg, Ashdown, Kendall, and Lowther all received significant campaign contributions from Genesis. Unfortunately, given this, it will not be surprising if Council approves the Omni ASP against solid opposition from local residents and in the face of the significant debt implications for the overall County.
For full details on the County’s process to date, click here.
Transportation Off-site Levy (TOL)
The County has just announced that, “due to the detailed responses we have received,” it has withdrawn the amendments to the Transportation Off-Site Levy (TOL) bylaw from Council’s September 12th meeting.
This provides some vindication for the many residents who had believed they would have a meaningful opportunity to provide input on the revised amendments before a final version was presented to Council. However, it also raises serious doubts about Council’s ability to deal with the clear inequities in the existing bylaw on a timely basis.
One of the critical issues that Council should be addressing is the reality that the TOL’s current structure almost certainly does not comply with the legal requirements for such levies set out by the Province and confirmed in legal challenges to other municipalities’ levies.
The provincial regulation states that “all beneficiaries of development are to … participate in the cost… on an equitable basis” and that “there is to be a correlation between the levy and the impacts of the new development.”
The basic structure of Rocky View’s TOL is a flat rate per acre to be subdivided and is calculated on the assumption that new development will pay 100% of the transportation network upgrades. Neither of these satisfy the regulatory requirements.
As a residents’ advocacy group, Rocky View Forward is reluctant to highlight flaws that will result in additional financial burdens on existing residents. However, the legal parameters are unambiguous. We believe that Council should have recognized this reality long ago. They then might have exercised greater due diligence in their development approvals. Had Council acknowledged that these approvals would have a greater impact on existing residents’ property tax rates, one can at least hope that some of them might have been examined more critically.
The Town of Okotoks’ off-site bylaw was structured in the same manner as Rocky View’s. It was challenged in court and Okotoks lost in the Court of Appeals in 2011. Subsequently, almost all Alberta municipalities have restructured their off-site bylaws to reflect that unanimous Court of Appeals decision. Rocky View has not.
Most people's objections to the TOL focused on the lack of correlation between the amount payable and the resulting impact on the road network. For example, subdividing a 20-acre parcel into ten-acre parcels does not impose as much demand on the roads as does subdividing the same 20 acres into two-acre parcels. Yet each would pay the same amount of TOL – an obvious inequity that needs to be addressed.
In municipalities where most subdivisions result in relatively comparable densities, a per acre levy may work. However, in Rocky View, there is a high degree of variability in post-subdivision densities. To provide the legally required correlation between the levy and the impact of the new development, the County needs to change the basis for its TOL to a “per door” or "per parcel" charge. Alternatively, it could base the TOL on traffic impact assessments which measure the incremental impact a proposed development will have on the road network.
From the perspective of existing residents, the Court of Appeals decision has an even more serious implication. The core of the Court’s decision was that “a municipality is not entitled to allocate the whole of the offsite costs of new … infrastructure … upon new development, unless it can be reasonably assumed that the existing residents derive no benefit therefrom.”
It was this aspect of the Court decision that caused Alberta municipalities to amend their off-site levy structures to no longer charge new development with 100% of the cost of infrastructure upgrades. Many of the upgrades funded through off-site levies provide benefits to both existing residents and prospective residents (new development). After the Court of Appeals decision, other municipalities clearly reached this conclusion since they amended their off-site levy bylaws to allocate only portions of costs of new infrastructure to new development.
The proposed amendments to Rocky View’s TOL bylaw did not do this. Relying on the fact that Rocky View’s TOL has not yet been legally challenged is no excuse to continue to ignore the reality that it does not comply with the legal requirements for such levies.
For a more in depth analysis of the TOL's click here.
Expansion of the Langdon Waste Water Treatment Plant
At its January 10th meeting, Council agreed to delay financing any expansion of the Langdon Waste Water Treatment Plant until its capacity utilization reaches 70% of its design capacity. This decision was driven by the reality pointed out by hired consultants that 70% utilization was unlikely to be reached until at least 2034. Even this estimation uses optimistic build-out assumptions for development in east Rocky View.
If you have not already done so, check out Janet Ballantyne's findings on the County debt and how much the County has already spent on the East Rocky View Water infrastructure here.
The County is drafting it first aggregate resource policy (ARP) to manage gravel development in the County. The policy will replace the current ad-hoc approach to gravel pit applications. Click here to see the County's information page on the ARP. Originally slated to be presented to Council in April, severe resident backlash and opposition has sent the County back to the drawing board.
The draft plan that was released by the County in December reflected a heavy bias in favour of industry as it was drafted by Golder and Associates who had known ties to industry. In an attempt to level the playing field, community group Rocky View Gravel Watch, drafted a 72-page response highlighting the plan's weaknesses. The submission itself was prepared by a steering committee of 14 – 15 individuals from the Gravel Watch group. The steering committee included one or more of each of the following professionals – lawyers, doctors, engineers, geologists, geophysicists, policy analysts, management consultants, wildlife biologists, communication specialists and business owners. The group's submission can be accessed here.
While gravel is a resource necessary for construction activity, it imposes significant costs on residential and commercial development anywhere close to its operations. To ensure that future gravel pit development is compatible with neighbouring land uses, residents need to be involved. Prolonged exposure to silica dust can cause severe health problems. Property values for those in close proximity to a pit are proven to be negatively impacted. As such, residents must be able to influence where pits are located.
While the ARP has been kept in limbo, we are sad to report that three gravel pits, originally on hold pending the outcome of the ARP were approved in July. All three of these pits are located along Hwy 567 in Division 9. These pits were approved despite residents not being able to access relevant studies like Traffic Impact Assessments, air quality and noise impact studies. The clear majority of residents were opposed to these pits and asked that none of them be approved until the ARP is completed. Thereby allowing some additional assurances that their concerns about the cumulative impacts of multiple pits in a concentrated area would be addressed.
However, Councillors Habberfield, Solberg, Boehlke, Lowther and Kendall believed that industry should not have to wait any longer and allowed the pits to proceed. Worse, the 3 approved pits were told to work together to create the rules around addressing cumulative impacts - a move Councillor Bahcheli accurately compared to allowing the fox to watch the hen-house.
To become further involved as a resident check out resident group Rocky View Gravel Watch's Facebook page or send the group an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
As well, County resident and journalist Enrique Massot's blog, County News Online. has some great links to relevant and interesting articles on gravel and other issues affecting the County. Check it out!