By Robert Weston and Al Schule And David Brezsnyak, Calgary Herald, June 25, 2013
Today, councillors at Rocky View County will hold one of their most important meetings ever – one that will have enormous, and potentially negative, impact on the quality of life both current and future residents enjoy in the vast region that surrounds Calgary.
The public hearing has been called by council to review the proposed County Development Plan – a 105-page document that will decide what all future land use will look like for at least the next decade.
Rocky View County is a massive area of more than one million acres, or more than 4,000 square kilometres. Directly bordering Calgary on three sides, it includes more than 17 hamlets and other communities, ranging from Langdon to Bragg Creek, Balzac to Elbow Valley, and Bearspaw to Conrich.
The outcome of the public hearing and the deliberations of council will impact land values, road access, traffic patterns, future taxes, the county’s long-term finances, agricultural uses, recreational opportunities and future growth of communities.
It will affect retirement plans of aging landowners and residential values, which have decreased. Housing starts have dropped since 2005.
We want only the best for Rocky View County. We are deeply concerned the proposed plan will not result in attractive, growing, vibrant communities that are financially sustainable and environmentally progressive.
We embrace our rich heritage, rural roots and agriculture values, but want to note that interest in two-acre country estates are no longer of great appeal to the majority of potential new residents. This does not even take into consideration the environmental and operational costs assumed by the county with that style of development.
Older people want to stay in the community, but with a different style of housing. They want less expensive homes for their children to launch out on their own while staying in Rocky View.
The county plan needs flexibility and innovation. We cannot afford to lock in the past, as no one knows what southern Alberta will look like in five years, let alone in 2026.
We, and many others we have talked to, are especially concerned that the plan prepared by administration calls for reduction to moderate growth, with no more than a 2.5 to three per cent increase in the regional population by 2026.
Current Rocky View council policy is the very well researched and extensively debated Rocky View 2060: Growth Management Strategy. It says the county “will offer a much wider range of housing types and locational choice than it does today. The municipality is expected to account for approximately six per cent of total population growth in the region . . . .”
Current approved projects already on county books – primarily in just two areas – could easily consume all the growth allowed in the proposed plan, leaving no room for other projects, no matter how innovative in design or environmentally progressive in impact. Let alone what desired services they might bring or how fiscally beneficial they might be to an indebted county.
Why the change now, especially with Alberta forecast to grow significantly? One reason may be that the draft plan was shaped with 70 per cent of both workshop and online participants living primarily in two areas of the county.
Too often we hear from a vocal minority, intent on restricting property rights with emotionally driven, not fact-based rhetoric. We respect everyone’s right to an opinion. We believe the residents of Rocky View should have all the facts.
Approximately 75 per cent of the people who commented on the draft plan during the public engagement process said the growth limits were too low. We hope council hears their concerns.
We have heard comments from ranchers and farmers concerned about the continuous erosion of their land values as more and more hurdles are placed in front of development potential. We know of seniors seeking to sell or subdivide their land, only to find no buyer at an acceptable price, or to be told no.
Appropriate development, in all its forms, must deliver financial benefits to the county and all taxpayers. We worry the plan could result in a negative impact on taxpayers, and we know that doesn’t have to happen.
Quality developers are ready to step forward to build the vibrant, sustainable community that we all cherish. They own land in great places that will benefit Rocky View, its financial situation and all the people who pay taxes. Companies are anxious to locate here, bringing quality jobs, but they are looking elsewhere because there simply is no appropriate housing for their employees.
Ultimately, it is the homebuyer who will determine what happens in Rocky View as Alberta prospers. We encourage Rocky View council to embrace the future with enthusiasm, and to provide attractive opportunities to potential residents. The current draft county plan states: “Achieving ‘moderate’ growth does not mean saying ‘no’ but rather ‘not now’.”
The year 2026 may be too long to wait for many current and potential residents.
The public hearing takes place at 10 a.m. and everyone is invited to participate.
Robert Weston is an architect who works extensively in Rocky View (firstname.lastname@example.org). Al Schule is a former Rocky View reeve and businessman from Langdon (schuleal@gmail. com). David Brezsnyak is president of Westside Land Corp. with holdings in Rocky View (David@westsideland.ca).
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