Annexation metings get underway
By: Don Patterson
| Posted: Friday, Jan 17, 2014 11:18 am
Annexation negotiations have begun between Okotoks and the MD of Foothills over the Town’s plans to annex more than 1,000 hectares of land to accommodate for 60 years of growth.
The first meeting of the negotiating committees was held on Monday.
MD Reeve Larry Spilak said he is optimistic both sides can reach an agreement that will respect landowners and allow Okotoks to continue to grow.
“It’s the only way we’ll be able to succeed and I think Okotoks has got the same thoughts to get in there, work together and get it done in a way that we can accommodate our land owners and the Town of Okotoks’ growth,” he said.
Councils from both sides will be represented by negotiation committees with Mayor Bill Robertson and councillors Matt Rockley and Tanya Thorn on the Town’s side and Spilak and MD councillors Ted Mills and Ron Chase on the MD’s side.
Robertson said Monday’s closed–door meeting was largely introductory and involved laying out the process for how negotiations will proceed. The next meeting will be held in March.
He said the ultimate timeframe for negotiations will depend on how successful both sides are at being able to come to an agreement.
“It all depends on progress, the timeline will be laid out, we’re just getting started,” he said.
Robertson declined to discuss the meeting any further saying details and information will only be released in joint statements from both sides.
The Town unveiled its plans late last year to annex land on all sides from the MD — stretching from Big Rock Trail in the southwest to Highway 2 in the northeast — to allow Okotoks to grow to up to 82,000 people by 2073.
At an MD council meeting last week, several councillors expressed concerns over the Town’s plans to annex enough land for the next 60 years saying it’s looking too far out in the future.
Mills said a lot will change over the next 30 years and it may be inappropriate to look at a 60-year timeframe.
He said future developments are likely to be at higher densities that won’t use up as much land as current practices do. As a result, Mills said the amount of land needed to serve 60 years of development could end up being less than what the Town is looking for today.
“When you start getting out anything over that length of time, there’s just so many things that can happen and I really have some concerns,” he said. “Thirty years from now, the status quo certainly isn’t what it is today.”
The MD has previously stated it would not support attempts to annex land south of Highway 7.
On a personal level, Mills continues to support this principle, but added it’s not an official position of the new council.
While the Town held an open house on its annexation plans last month, he said the MD hasn’t yet done the same on its side. Mills said the MD will hold an open house with its residents in March to see what they are willing to support.
“After that, it’ll probably give us a better idea of where we want to draw some lines too,” he said. “If a resident says to us I definitely want to be in it and it’s in a place where it will seem appropriate then why wouldn’t we attempt to carry on with what they’re asking for.”
Okotoks Coun. Matt Rockley defended the Town’s 60-year time frame for its annexation plans.
“It gives the municipality more certainty for long-range planning of those lands in planning for infrastructure servicing and all those types of things,” he said.
Rockley said there is a trend towards annexation agreements with longer timeframes, including a recent agreement between Strathmore and Wheatland County for a 50-year timeframe.
Rockley said a longer timeframe can also save taxpayers from having to foot the bill for more than one annexation agreement over the next 60 years.
Ultimately, he said he hopes the negotiations go smoothly so the Town can have a completed annexation application to submit to the provincial government by the fall.
“If we reach an agreement quickly then the application proceeds more quickly,” he said.