A call to action has been put out to Foothills residents.
As the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board’s (CMRB) draft growth plan enters into its third and final public consultation phase, Foothills County has posted a letter to its residents outlining the background, content and potential impact of the growth plan for the County.
“We’re asking our residents to contact their MLAs and the minister of Municipal Affairs, so we’re encouraging them to take a look and understand what’s going on here,” said County Reeve Suzanne Oel.
She said the County wants to inform its residents as they are invited to participate in the CMRB online surveys, which make up the official public engagement for the growth plan. She said the CMRB website includes background information, a copy of the draft plan and an FAQ section to answer some questions.
The County is prepared to answer any further queries or concerns from its citizens. Some people may have a difficult time deciphering the planning language of the document, and Foothills councillors and staff are open to providing guidance and translation to layman’s terms, she said.
“It’s complex, so what the County is offering is really a way to help understand what’s going on and what’s in that plan,” said Oel.
She said the County has posted its letter of appeal to residents, a slideshow and more information to its website and social media. Residents looking for more direction or clarification can also arrange phone calls or video conferences to discuss further with councillors or staff.
It’s important for residents of the County to understand that potential impacts to the municipality if the draft growth plan is accepted as-is, she said.
“The growth plan shuts the door on rural opportunity, removes economic development for the rural members, creates red tape and economic uncertainty, was developed with insufficient public engagement, is biased against the rural municipalities and will cost taxpayers money,” said Oel.
She said over the course of the last three years, as the growth plan was developed, the County and other rural municipalities in the CMRB (Rocky View County and Wheatland County) have requested amendments to the document to provide more opportunities for growth in rural areas, but those changes have not occurred.
“They’ve been ignored, so we’re very concerned, and that’s led us to this call for action,” said Oel.
Growth would be stunted in rural regions according to the policy section of the plan, she said. There would be limited ability for the three counties to create new employment and residential areas.
Oel said it is particularly frustrating because Foothills County has worked with its residents for years to define its own growth strategy and define zones for industrial, commercial and residential development. Servicing has been planned to accommodate those anticipated areas of growth.
One example is the Highway 2 East Side Area Structure Plan, which has been designed for the east side of the Town of High River and taken eight years to develop, but would not fit into the new CMRB growth plan, she said.
“The other is an area we were planning to service with piped water, piped potable water in partnership with the Town of Okotoks,” said Oel. “Those are not included in where we’re designated to be able to plan.”
It’s not just County development that sits at risk with the CMRB plan, she said. Foothills landowners would also lose some of their freedom to develop or redesignate their properties.
There isn’t much confidence for future opportunities for the municipality or its taxpayers, she said.
If residents have a business opportunity outside its defined area, which the County believes is sensible and can be serviced, an application to the board could be made but is not a guarantee – some very simple requests from other member municipalities have been refused in the past, she said.
Oel said that is due largely to an “unfair voting structure” that favours urban municipalities.
“That leaves us with that whole concept of uncertainty,” said Oel. “The growth plan strips away property rights and prevents the rurals from doing anything except for being annexed.
“It may sound dramatic but it’s really the truth, because we’re not even allowed to develop an employment area larger than 20 acres without begging to the board.”
She said the growth plan is shutting down rural Alberta in the Calgary region by putting the brakes on job and housing developments.
It’s an unlevel playing field at the CMRB right now, and she said Foothills Counts is fighting to see the same rights for rural areas as urban neighbours.
“We’re looking for a win-win in this plan, and at this point they’re calling it a draft plan and we really believe our current government is interested in economic development, not closing down the rural areas,” said Oel.
The Town of Okotoks states it is in support of regional planning and fostering strong relationships with neighbouring municipalities, as evidenced by collaborationg with Foothills County on the regional waterline project and joint planning agreements.
"The benefits realized from these partnerships could be extended to the broader region through implementation of the growth plan," said Okotoks CAO Elaine Vincent in a written statement. "Enhanced co-ordination and regional planning can facilitate secure and reliable access to critical infrastructure such as water and wastewater for more residents in the region."
She noted significant concerns were raised with the first draft of the CMRB growth plan around proposed joint planning area (JPA) boundaries and a lack of clarity on their implementation as well as the general clarity and interpretation of the document.
Some concessions have been made to address the concerns raised by Okotoks and other municipalities with revised JPA boundaries, lower minimum densities for rural areas and the provision of some local employment and small-scale residential opportunities that would not require CMRB approval, she said.
"The updated draft attempts to strike a balance between the concerns raised by member municipalities and the direction from the Province (as per CMRB regulation) to create a regional plan that facilitates a more integrated approach to planning for future growth by identifying an overall development pattern and future infrastructure investments," said Vincent.
Okotoks will not be running its own call to action but will be promoting CMRB communications opportunities, she said.The deadline for public engagement is April 8.
CMRB members will vote on the plan by June 1.