Residents address growth

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Mar 26, 2014 03:23 pm

MD of Foothills Reeve Larry Spilak stands on land just outside of Okotoks. The MD brought residents together last week to discuss Okotoks’ annexation plans.
MD of Foothills Reeve Larry Spilak stands on land just outside of Okotoks. The MD brought residents together last week to discuss Okotoks’ annexation plans.
Wheel File Photo

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Last week a group of rural citizens contemplated an oversized map that puts their property within the boundaries of an expanded Okotoks.

The plans are preliminary and there will be months of negotiations between the Town of Okotoks and MD of Foothills to finalize boundaries and land uses for the town’s expansion, but residents were given their chance to take a look and give their opinions.

David Chernoff, who lives north of the town’s current boundaries, is worried the annexation could bring back companies previously interested in building car dealerships in his neighbourhood that were denied.

“What changes will occur and how will they be handled and controlled?” he asked. “When does the public consultation end? I’m hoping it will continue and things will be addressed.”

Residents living in or adjacent to the proposal expressed concerns available water and development during the MD of Foothills public consultation at the Scott Seaman Sports Arena at Heritage Heights on March 20.

A map of the area the Town of Okotoks has proposed to annex reveals an expansion of more than 1,000 hectares, the majority to the northeast and south of Okotoks, looks like Okotoks will double in size in the proposal’s 60-year timeframe.

“What is that going to do to the infrastructure?” Chernoff said. “Hopefully they will address a lot of these issues.”

Chernoff said he and his neighbours moved to the area for the semi-rural lifestyle, but if development occurs outside their backdoor they can say farewell to the night sky.

On the flip side, Chernoff understands growth is inevitable.

“We can’t stop people from coming to Okotoks,” he said. “Right now it’s a bedroom community (to Calgary.)”

The Town of Okotoks submitted a notice of intent for annexation to the Municipal Government Board last fall following Okotoks Town Council’s decision to expand its community, contrary to a decision made by the previous council to cap the community at 30,000 people. Town council voted to lift the cap in 2012.

Approximately 27,000 people reside in Okotoks, according to last year’s census.

The area identified for annexation was recommended in a growth study commissioned by the Town.

Among questions asked during the meeting was how the expansion will align with the town’s current water situation. The town currently has enough water licence capacity to serve between 28,000 to 29,000 people.

Last fall, the Town decided to work with the City of Calgary on an agreement to build a pipeline from Calgary to Okotoks and this information was shared by Heather Hemingway, municipal planner, department supervisor.

“Negotiations are underway for a pipeline from Calgary to service additional growth,” she said. “This is the best option and this is what they are pursuing.”

Questions were also asked about future plans for land, but those in attendance were told it will be discussed during the negotiation process.

Julie McLean, the project planner, told those in attendance if their land is absorbed into the town’s boundaries they will have the same property rights, unless they choose to develop their land or until a specified time period established in the agreement lapses, which will be decided during the negotiation process.

“It doesn’t lead to immediate development or immediate access to urban services like water and sewer,” she said.

Hemingway reminded residents in attendance that they have the opportunity to express their opinions throughout the process.

“If you are not interested in annexation we want to know,” she said. “That’s important to us.”

Allan Collins, who lives just outside the proposed growth area north of Okotoks, said he and his neighbours, many who farm, are concerned about the future of their land.

Collins’ farm was homesteaded in 1882.

“We’ve got some ties to the land,” he said. “It’s been in the family for 130 years.”

Collins added he understands that being this close to the community means the potential of being absorbed into an expansion the town.

“We are too close to Calgary so it’s inevitable, but it’s progress,” he said. “I don’t have to be worried for a bit.”

MD of Foothills planner Semra Kalkan said the Town and MD will begin negotiations this spring regarding borders, tax rates, road maintenance and future land use.

The MD of Foothills’ annexation negotiation panel consists of Reeve Larry Spilak and councillors Ted Mills and Tom Chase, who will meet monthly, she said.

Throughout the process, there will be numerous opportunities for public consultation, Kalkan added.

“It’s our first face-to-face meeting with our public,” she said. “There is always chances for people to follow up with the process. This is not the last chance at all for providing feedback for having a discussion with us or asking questions.”

Spilak invited those in attendance to share their concerns anytime with the MD.

“We will listen to you and are prepared to work with you,” he said. “We believe the land owners should have a right to agree or disagree with annexation. We are here to agree with you.”

Kalkan said negotiations could take a year or more, depending on whether or not the Town and MD has difficulty agreeing on certain points and could require a mediator to help them come to conclusions, Kalkan said.

If the annexation is not contested, it will go directly to the Municipal Affairs minister for approval. If the Town’s annexation is contested, the matter will go in front of a public hearing at the Municipal Government Board.

The application and a map of the proposal is available on the Town of Okotoks website at www.okotoks.ca


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