Mountain View County (MVC) council has deferred a vote on proposed amendments to the municipal development plan and the land use bylaw regarding a number of environmentally significant areas.
The move came following a public hearing at the recent regularly scheduled council meeting.
Areas involved include properties in the Bearberry, Bergen and Water Valley-Winchell Lake neighbourhoods.
“As part of the (recent) subdivision and development application review process, administration utilized the 2014 provincial environmentally significant areas data by Fiera Biological Consulting along with the existing 2008 ESA Summit Report data,” administration said in a briefing note to council.
“The result of the change would mean 15,798 acres out of 662,087 acres of agricultural preservation area land would now be located within the potential multi-lot residential development area.
“While this proposed change includes a large land mass becoming potentially developable, the majority of these lands are long narrow strips that may pose challenges for developing new lots within these areas and amounts to only two per cent removed from the agricultural preservation area.”
The proposed amendments are not related to rezoning properties and property assessment will continue to be agriculture if the land is currently assessed and being used for agriculture, council heard.
A number of people appeared before council at the public hearing and/or submitted letters to express concerns with the proposal.
“Acreages development should be planned around the growth centres and the farmland needs to be preserved or we will find our communities swallowed up by acreages just like the trap that Foothills and Rocky View counties have experienced,” wrote resident Lynne Henry.
“A multitude of acreages inevitably creates exorbitant land prices so that a farmer can no longer afford the quarter section down the road and is forced out of the area. Let us be proactive and preserve our farmland.”
Residents Linda Wendelboe and George Green wrote, in part, that, “We don’t believe it is useful to add land to the potential multi-lot residential class and then later remove them to another protected status. Therefore, we suggest that the present amendments be put on hold until the classification system can be developed further.
“While we support an approach that applies appropriate principles to determine areas for agricultural preservation and other preservation classifications, we are not in favour of passing (amendments) 08/18 and 09/18 in their present forms.”
Resident Sally Banks spoke during the public hearing and submitted a letter.
In her letter she said, in part, “My concerns are twofold: the lack of community engagement in this process prior to the public hearing; and the need to reconsider our definition of planning designations in light of climate change.
“To my mind, ‘re-identifying’ more than 24 square miles is no small matter. When landowners read about such a large change – with no opportunity for input except at a public hearing – it tends to raise suspicion, weaken trust and set the rumour mill on high.
“What if all land in MVC was labelled environmentally significant? Agriculture, as we know it now, would still be a primary focus but we would acknowledge the need to adapt to changing conditions. Development proposals would be evaluated on the basis of sustainability – reflecting integration not separation.”
Resident Frank Greif submitted a letter of concern, saying, in part, that, “It is felt from discussions during the community meeting noted above (held March 6 at Eagle Hill), there is considerable concern about these proposed changes and a need to recognize that not all agricultural activities are geared to the production of grain crops on Class 1, 2 and 3 soils.
“There is considerable and demonstrated agricultural value in lands identified as Class 4, 5 and 6. Without these lands and the people who work them, the county would be a poorer place – economically, socially and culturally.”
Resident Sandy Easterbrook spoke at the public hearing. She also wrote a letter, stating in part, that, “Farmers and ranchers, myself included, are especially upset. In a county which professes to value agricultural land, acreages have popped up on almost every quarter around Bergen.
“Re-designating almost 16,000 acres of land as potentially multi lot residential development acres takes another big slice out of the limited pie.
“I hope you (council) will rethink this scheme and truly honour your supposed commitment to the preservation of agricultural land.”
Resident Anne Macklin spoke at the public hearing, calling on council to defer the proposed amendments.
She also wrote a letter, stating in part, that deferring a vote on the amendment would offer the opportunity to “engage the public in discussion solutions to the problem of broadening the tax base. A bottom-up approach can produce wide-ranging ideas and solutions that are true solutions. The current approach tends to produce solutions that cause more problems and create as many losers as winners.
“(And) recognize the need to arrange growth in a manner that accommodates carefully constructed emergency planning. Recent dry years highlight the dangers of considering residential development in the absence of adequate services to fight a major fire and the absence of fully developed emergency evacuation plans in the event of such a fire.”
Resident Patrick Cummins wrote a letter, stating in part that, “The bylaw will create a great incentive for speculators and gamblers, read developers, to come in, manipulate future councils into re-designations, and turn the entire western part of the county into one great big Calaway Park (an amusement complex west of Calgary). To some people that may seem like a great idea, but myself and others don’t agree.”
All seven MVC councillors voted in favour of a motion to defer any vote on the proposed amendments pending further discussion, including at upcoming open houses this month.