Town taking Wind Walk case to Supreme Court
Okotoks: Legal bills adding up for Town and MD of Foothills
Friday, Jul 19, 2013 02:03 pm
The Town of Okotoks is taking its legal fight over the Mike Holmes-led Wind Walk development to Canada’s highest court.
Okotoks town council voted 5-2 on July 15 to ask the Supreme Court of Canada to hear its case over whether it should be allowed to challenge the MD of Foothills’ 2010 decision approving Wind Walk’s area structure plan (ASP).
The issue is whether the Town faced a six-month timeframe to file an application to have the courts declare the ASP invalid. Both the Court of Queen’s Bench and the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled Okotoks did not file its case in time, while Okotoks disagreed it faced any such timeframe.
“Our legal counsel has stated that it shouldn’t matter about six months,” said Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson. “Because it’s a bad law, it should be challenged.”
The case has been in front of the courts for almost three years.
In 2010, Okotoks appealed MD council’s approval of the ASP to the Court of Queen’s Bench saying the plan conflicts with the intermunicipal development plan in place between the two municipalities. The Town sought to have the decision declared invalid. In January 2012, a judge refused to hear the appeal because he determined Okotoks did not file an application to the courts within the required timeframe. The Town then appealed this decision to the Alberta Court of Appeals, which ruled against Okotoks last month.
Meanwhile, the legal bills are adding up.
Okotoks municipal manager Rick Quail estimated the Town spent $28,000 on taking the case to the court of appeal. He estimated it will cost between $5,000 and $10,000 just to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case.
As well, the MD has racked up substantial legal fees through the process so far. Exact numbers have not yet been released.
Robertson defended the cost as justifiable to protect the Town and stand up for its rights.
While council is now taking the case to the Supreme Court, there is no guarantee it will proceed because the court has the right to choose whether or not it will hear the matter.
For a case to be accepted by the Supreme Court, it must be of interest at a national level.
Robertson said the Town believes its case meets this requirement because municipalities should not have to face timeframes to challenge bylaws others pass infringing on intermunicipal agreements.
“It’s a really awkward position because all the way along we’ve had some great partnerships with the MD of Foothills and I believe they’re disappointed that we’re pursuing this, but it comes down to what we feel was a violation of our intermunicipal development agreement,” said Robertson.
The proposed development, on the south side of Highway 7 just outside Okotoks, includes 458 single family and multi-family homes as well as a small commercial site. Plans approved by the MD allow the development’s first phase to proceed with groundwater wells and a pipeline must be in place before the second and third phases can proceed.
Robertson said the Town has always argued large residential developments in the Okotoks area should be located within the town.
He also reiterated the Town’s concerns over the potential impact the development could have on Okotoks’ water supply
“Ultimately we’re doing the best to protect the citizens of Okotoks,” he said.
Coun. Matt Rockley and Coun. Florence Christophers voted against going to the Supreme Court.
Rockley said the Town has already lost the case in front of two courts and Okotoks should cut its losses and move on.
“To me, the matter’s been heard by the courts,” he said. “I personally don’t feel that it’s a good use of public tax dollars to further challenge the issue.”
Rockley said he would rather see the Town focus its efforts and resources on working with the MD on annexation and drawing up a new intermunicipal development plan.
Officials with the MD and Wind Walk’s developer are dismayed by Okotoks council’s decision.
“I guess I’m disappointed that they’re taking it to that level,” said MD interim Reeve Ted Mills
He said the legal process has racked up large legal bills ultimately paid for by taxpayers.
“We’ve always said that we need to be very prudent in how we’re spending these dollars in court cases,” he said.
Seth Atkins, director for Holmes Communities, said they have followed all appropriate steps through the development process.
“We are surprised that they want to continue to pursue this path because we feel the courts have already outlined what the results are,” he said.
He stressed the case involves legal technicalities and doesn’t have anything to do with the development itself.