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COLUMN: Growth discussion on the horizon for Okotoks

It's a fine line to straddle, but if it's done effectively, the characteristics that make a community endearing can be preserved while it continues to grow. 
NEWS-Home Builds File 2022 BWC 0044
New home builds progress in the D'Arcy Ranch neighbourhood of Okotoks on Oct. 12, 2022.

Before water starts flowing into Okotoks from the Bow River two years from now, I suspect quite the community conversation is going to be had. 

Once Town officials are no longer restricted by a limited water supply, a collective decision will need to be made on the pace of development moving forward, which will undoubtedly lead to a rather spirited discussion on what shape Okotoks should take in the years to come. 

When I arrived here last spring, I was intrigued by the amount of development that was in the works. You see, I come from a part of Greater Vancouver where growth was routinely considered a dirty word, where a legendary public hearing on a large-scale housing proposal lasted an astounding 27 nights and saw a never-ending stream of residents explain how adding 1,900 homes would be the end of the community as they knew it. The proposal was eventually defeated and the council that had the audacity to entertain it was thrown out in the next election. 

I don’t get the sense that the level of resistance here runs that deep (the town wouldn’t have grown to 30,000 if that was the case), but judging by comments I’ve seen on social media, there's definitely a sizable contingent that would like to keep things pretty much the way they are. Even the admittedly unscientific poll we ran on our website earlier this month found more than 60 per cent of respondents believe there’s already too much development. 

That sentiment is understandable given we have all found a nice community in which to live — big enough to have most amenities while still retaining its small-town feel — and we don’t want to see that altered to any great extent. 

When my wife and I were looking for a place to live in the Calgary region last spring, as soon as we came across Okotoks, we knew we had found it as the town had just the right mix that we desired. I suspect many others have come to that same conclusion over the years, so it’s only natural that you want to keep what attracted you to the place intact. 

But is pulling up the drawbridge a realistic option?  

From a housing perspective, Okotoks is already too single-family-centric, so limiting future supply will only serve to drive up prices, turning a family-friendly community into one where the kids won’t be able to buy a place when they become adults. 

Another drawback to the status quo approach is the impact such a move has on the commercial sector as I’ve witnessed a bowling alley and movie theatre disappear along with a junior department store, car dealerships and other businesses that require a certain scale in order to operate. Even my son’s school closed due to declining enrolment. 

Managing growth is most definitely a delicate balance as rampant expansion has the ability to make a community unrecognizable but saying no to development comes with consequences as well. It's a fine line to straddle, but if it's done effectively, the characteristics that make a community endearing can be preserved while it continues to grow. 

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