Court should overule Town

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The Town of Okotoks and its Subdivision Appeals board went too far when land use rules were relaxed for a multi-family complex at 103 McRae St.

It’s now up to the Alberta Court of Appeal to set things right after a Dec. 7 hearing in downtown Calgary and overturn a decision that would allows a high-density, attached housing development in an area with a mix of apartments and single-family homes.

The case has the potential to set a precedent for how future re-development in the area could go ahead in the years to come and it’s vital the court set clear guidelines for just how much leeway planning authorities have to relax land use rules.

The case stems from a June 2016 decision by the Okotoks Subdivision and Development Appeal Board upholding several variances granted for a 32-unit complex across from the Okotoks Court House. The plan was opposed by area residents and property owner Gordon White took the matter to Alberta’s court of appeal.

Under the site’s R-MD land use rules, attached housing (as proposed in this case) requires a minimum of 279 square metres of land for each dwelling unit. This rule was relaxed to require only 110.4 square metres, a 60 per cent reduction. White’s lawyer pointed out this more than doubled the number of residential units that could be built on the site from 14.5 to 37.5. This goes too far.

Municipal planning authorities and subdivision appeal boards have a wide degree of latitude to relax land use rules for individual development proposals. And, they should. Rigid, cookie-cutter rules don’t often accommodate the unique circumstances that come with individual proposals.

That said, this power should not be unlimited and it needs to be guided by clear, transparent, reasonable rules.

In the McRae case, the Town and appeal board took too much latitude and the court needs to rein them in.

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