2017 paved way for growth, planning

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Okotoks was given licence to grow and saw the development of new infrastructure in 2017.

Mayor Bill Robertson said there were a number of accomplishments in town over the last year, including the twinning of the Pason Centennial Arena, opening the new operations centre, the redevelopment of Veterans Way and installation of the memorial wall, and progress on the school site on 40 acres of community land off 32 St.

Having a new hockey rink ready to open in the new year will be a major coup, he said.

“It’s about to open, and it’s much-needed so teams don’t have to go to Stavely on a regular basis for hockey practice, young teams on icy roads and so on,” said Robertson. “It will be a safer situation and a highlight for Okotoks.”

The memorial wall on Veterans Way was a significant addition to the town in 2017, he said. The public art installation, which features photos of Okotokians who served in the Canadian military surrounded by poppies, was a grassroots-driven initiative brought forward by the Okotoks Arts Council and the Okotoks Legion, he said.

“I still get comments on that – ‘Is that ever cool, I always walk down there,’ or ‘I drive by all the time, I should go walk by it,’” said Robertson.

One of the most important moments of 2017 was provincial approval of annexation plans to bring 1,950 hectares of land from the MD of Foothills into the Town of Okotoks. It should provide growth for the next 50 years, he said.

There were some contentious negotiation meetings between the MD and the Town at times, but Robertson said the two municipalities have a great working relationship.

“I think it’s excellent,” he said. “We share in the Foothills Okotoks Recreation Society running the field house and that’s a great initiative together. We share Champion Park, and that’s a great initiative together for the benefit of all citizens.”

Water was a major concern through 2017, and the Town was pleased to see interim water licences be approved in the fall, which will allow for growth for the next three to five years, he said. A regional water pipeline continues to be a priority for the Town, and will be pursued further in 2018, he said. After a number of meetings with the Province, Robertson said he’s optimistic.

“I believe we’re on the cusp of getting this approved, but we’re still waiting, definitely impatiently,” he said.

Robertson said the Town has lobbied its regional partners as well as municipalities involved with the Calgary Regional Partnership. Once the Calgary-region growth management board launches in 2018 he intends to lobby the members once again, he said.

Transitioning to the growth management board in 2018 will also take some work, said Robertson. Currently the board is intended to look only at land plans and servicing, but he would like to see economic development included as well.

“We’ve put a lot of sweat and toil into the Calgary Regional Partnership and all the aspects of that,” he said. “We’re hoping things will transition over into the new growth management board.”

Robertson said he wants Okotoks to focus on diversifying its housing model in 2018, bringing more affordable homes to town by way of attached housing, multi-family units and housing co-ops.

He said the goal is make living in Okotoks more feasible for individuals or families who may not earn enough to afford an average home at about $450,000. Expensive homes also mean higher rent rates in town, which makes the town unaffordable for some people, said Robertson.

The Town needs to work toward affordable housing solutions that really work – not like its first attempt about a decade ago. In recent years, new developments were approved with smaller lots, which were intended to bring housing prices down with through lower land and home construction costs.

“That never happened,” said Robertson. “People bought a smaller lot then built a better house on it because they had more money. Money they didn’t have to spend on land they put into the house, so there was more hardwood flooring, more hot tubs, all of the amenities.”

As Okotoks grows, Robertson said it’s important to expand the Town’s non-residential tax base. In 2018, the Town will be striving toward its goal of having 78 per cent residential and 22 per cent non-residential taxpayers in Okotoks.

“Right now we’re at about 87-13, so we still need to make more headway in getting more commercial tax base,” said Robertson. “Whenever we can attract business is huge.”

He’s also looking forward to moving ahead with the branding initiative for Okotoks, and planning for more school sites and future growth, he said.

As the Town grows, there will be increased traffic and the intersection of Highway 7 at Southridge Dr. will be reviewed, he said. The MD is already looking at safety on same highway at Big Rock Trail, and Robertson said Okotoks is willing to back its municipal partner to see safety improvements go ahead.

Overall, he said 2018 will be a time of growth and planning in Okotoks and the Foothills in general.

“It’s an exciting time to live in Okotoks, to live in the region,” said Robertson. “It’s pretty phenomenal. It really is.”

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