Is Calgary’s offer of regional servicing a pipe dream, or a high level confidence game?

Is Calgary’s offer of regional servicing a pipe dream, or a high level confidence game?

Have no doubt about it, Calgary’s goal as the largest player in the Regional Partnership is to preserve the UniCity.  The City of Calgary website states the following:

“The City of Calgary adheres to the UniCity form of municipal government. The premise of the UniCity model maintains that urban development is most efficiently and fairly achieved under one municipality, as opposed to the metropolitan form of government, such as New York’s, comprised of multiple states. The advantages of UniCity over the metropolitan form of government are the equity of service provision, standards and taxation, reduced fragmentation of municipal services and the efficiency of administration including seamless planning and development, and the protection of long term growth corridors.”

Prior to 1995 the Calgary Regional Planning commission, controlled by the City of Calgary, was successful in minimizing growth in Rocky View in order to preserve land for future annexation by Calgary.  This not only limited Rocky View’s ability to govern their own destiny, but kept land values in Rocky View low and reduced housing options in the Region.

After 1995 when then Premier Ralph Klein eliminated the Calgary Planning Commission, Rocky View took hold of its own destiny; land values in Rocky View increased, and new housing options were available to families arriving to help grow the Region.  So Calgary was left with only a few tools to frustrate growth on its doorstep; setting high thresholds for others wanting to share its servicing, and blocking or frustrating others trying to obtain servicing outside its boundaries.

Calgary has a history of withholding servicing to its neighbours unless backed into a corner.  Two prime examples are Cochrane and Elbow Valley.  In both cases Calgary initially refused to service each area.  Both Cochrane and Elbow Valley had to apply to the Province for water and wastewater approvals and only until they received those approvals did the City of Calgary extend a “neighbourly” hand.  In 2004, Western Securities made a proposal to the City of Calgary, as part of their Gardner project, to help finance a waste water line from Calgary to Bragg Creek to eliminate the “boil water order” for the Hamlet and eliminate the direct discharge of raw sewage into the Elbow River upstream of Calgary.  The proposal was refused and Western was told by Calgary that they would have to apply for their own water and waste water solution, and that the City of Calgary would “fight them every step of the way”.  Only if Western was successful in obtaining an independent solution would Calgary consider extending servicing to Gardner and Bragg Creek.

More recently, Calgary as the largest player in the Calgary Regional Partnership, has “magnanimously” proposed to service its neighbours on the initial condition; that its neighbours plan their areas to urban (think Beltline) density of 8 to 10 units per acre.  This is shear genius and the first line of defense to preserve the UniCity.  Cochrane and Airdrie may ultimately hit this density target, but certainly areas in Rocky View will not.  Why would a consumer go to a new area in Rocky View that looked like urban Calgary, but lacked the other services provide by a mature urban centre including transit and other public services that come with higher density and higher population?  More importantly, Rocky View doesn’t want to look like Calgary.

The second line of defense to preserve the UniCity is the price Calgary will charge to connect to its utilities.  Anyone who thinks that Calgary won’t charge an unaffordable premium to provide servicing is being drawn into a high level confidence game.

Rocky View 2020 encourages Rocky View residents and leaders to preserve its governing and planning independence by looking for made-in-Rocky View servicing solutions.  Make no mistake fellow residents and stakeholders of Rocky View, the promise of servicing by Calgary is just a pipe dream.

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