Opinion: Decision puts Bragg Creek’s unique character at risk

By Bob Everett
Former Div. 1 Councillor

I came to Bragg Creek over 35 years ago and at the time there was a strong local community that stood up to Rocky View and fought to protect the area from greed and destructive development.

Those days appear to be over because the present Rocky View Council has just adopted a series of amendments to the Greater Bragg Creek area structure plan that in no way reflect the wishes of the community I have lived in for all these years.

This was all done with the blessing or under the noses of all the people that should have cared. What kind of government would recommend lot sizes as small as 0.26—quarter acre—in a beautiful, heavily treed community where trees and vegetation play such a huge role in managing drainage and protecting the area from overland flooding?

What type of representatives would ignore the kind of outcry that was heard around the community over the architectural style and elevation of the new gas station and then make a motion to allow four-story structures in the community?

These decisions have set the stage to send Bragg Creek down the same greedy development path that Calgary and all its surrounding communities have taken.

Bragg Creek residents attend an open house on the future of their hamlet. Photo: County News archive

Bragg Creek residents attend an open house on the future of their hamlet. Photo: County News archive

 

Bragg Creek is a jewel in the rough and its unique character needs careful and creative governance. I look at my own property and try to imagine what it would look like with two more houses with garages, driveways, sheds and whatever else is now allowable. Once fire smart principles are enforced, the chance of saving any natural vegetation will be impossible.

During my two terms in Council, I fought hard to get servicing for the Bragg Creek Community—but it was for the health of the residents and the protection of the environment.

We also knew that having piped water and sewer would help reduce overhead costs for local businesses—but that was never the number-one priority.  It appears our Council has looked at this opportunity as a windfall for the County, managing instead to make it all about greed and development. Developers and business people will be laughing all the way to the bank as they chop the Community into small pieces and erect buildings that will dwarf existing development.

If the Council of Rocky View understood or cared about this community, they would have had the consideration to hold their public hearing in the community so that they could get a true read on the wishes of the people. Instead, changes to a plan prepared with public input were done at the last minute, without warning and far away, in the northeast Calgary municipal building.

I recently sent out a proposal to the community recommending a form of local representation that was respectful and inclusive of the County—but the idea was quickly dismissed by our local representative. Bragg Creek needs a better form of local government with or without Rocky View and that is more evident now than it has ever been.

Quarter-acre lots allowed in Bragg Creek

By Enrique Massot
County News Online

Quarter-acre-lot subdivisions will be allowed in the Hamlet of Bragg Creek core, Rocky View Council has decided.

Liz Breakey

Liz Breakey

“The reason (is) to attract more families…more affordable accommodations,” said area Coun. Liz Breakey. “Just an opportunity for modest growth.”

After a one-year process that included open houses in April and June, Rocky View administration recommended approving half-acre minimun size lots in hamlet policies of the Greater Bragg Creek Area Structure Plan.

“The authentic ‘cabin in the woods’ feel, as you get to small lot size, becomes a lot more sensitive in terms of side yards,” said Municipal Planner Johnson Kwon. “To maintain and replace trees in the front yard will be important, otherwise it will just become another subdivision in the Calgary region.”

However, Breakey proposed to reduce that size to quarter acre at a Nov. 8 Rocky View Council meeting.

The decision came after a public hearing on new hamlet policies in which some residents asked Council to allow for higher housing density.

Municipal potable water and sewage servicing is now available in the hamlet core, and new lots will be connected to the service.

Suzanne Jackett, president of the Bragg Creek and District Chamber of Commerce, told Council that the hamlet needs affordable housing and seniors’ housing and the high-density housing that would made it possible.

“We would like, as a business community, to have as much density as possible (while) maintaining the character of the community,” she said.

Bragg Creek commercial core. Photo: Enrique Massot

Bragg Creek commercial core. Photo: Enrique Massot

 

However, Coun. Lois Habberfield opposed Breakey’s initiative.

“I see this as being quite a significant amendment,” she said. “We are cutting minimum lot size in half.”

Habberfield said the size proposed at the end of public consultation had been half acre.

“Having more vehicles and more congestion isn’t going to do that,” she said. “I am all for diversifying the community and allowing more options, which I thought we had covered in the plan.”

In addition, Habberfield noted, members of the public who felt comfortable with the proposed half-acre minimum lot size may have skipped attending the public hearing.

“If they knew this was going to happen they would have showed up here today,” she said. “Without more consultation I can’t support this.”

Coun. Rolly Ashdown supported the smaller lot size.

“We just heard from the people of Bragg Creek,” he said. “And believe me—if Bragg Creek has an opinion, they show up.”

Breakey said the residents who spoke at the public hearing represented a good cross-section of the community.

“They were the ones who regularly attended all the public sessions,” she said. “You heard from the Chamber of Commerce, you heard from the Revitalization Committee, you heard from a number of residents at various levels.”

Started as a summer village, Bragg Creek homes and businesses were built among dense pine forest. Photo: Enrique Massot

Started as a summer village, Bragg Creek homes and businesses were built among dense pine forest. Photo: Enrique Massot

Coun. Margaret Bahcheli opposed the amendment on the basis it represented a last-minute, fundamental change from previously proposed.

“There were 80 people who showed up at the (April) open house where it was going to be half an acre,” she said.

Living herself on a lot slightly smaller than quarter acre, Bahcheli said, she could visualize the effects of smaller lot sizes on the hamlet.

“I live on 0.2 of an acre,” she said. “There is no way you can put privacy screens of trees in between them—there is no enough sunshine. 0.2 of an acre, I regret moving to,” Bahcheli said.

Bahcheli said the plan as presented permitted consideration of quarter-acre lots on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s just going to be more collaborative, with more voices at the table,” she said.

Coun. Eric Lowther supported the proposed amendment saying design guidelines would guarantee new subdivisions are created in an acceptable manner.

“Many of the people who spoke here today were in favour of quarter of an acre if the design guidelines could be maintained,” he said.

Rocky View adopted the Bragg Creek Revitalization Plan in December 2015 to guide future development in the hamlet and aiming to increase housing diversity and flexibility for business development.

Requirements for quarter-acre lots will be full servicing, acceptable access, no physical constraints, consideration for building placement and tree retention.

Other forms of residential development, such as duplex, semi-detached, and accessory dwelling units will also become permitted under conditions.

Breakey’s amendment was approved on a 5-2 vote, in absence of Reeve Greg Boehlke and Coun. Jerry Arshinoff.

 

Council nixes election boundaries change

By Enrique Massot
The County News Online

The Council of Rocky View County has abandoned an initiative to change electoral boundaries in time for the October 2017 municipal election.

On Nov. 22, County staff recommended Council to reduce the County’s current nine divisions to seven, and presented drafts with options to reduce population differences among divisions.

However, a recently formed residents’ group representative told councillors their own approved plan to consult with residents prior to drafting the new boundaries had been ignored.

“When Council passed this review last June, its terms of reference recognized the importance of this public consultation,” said Samanntha Wright, head of Rocky View Forward. “Promising…and then failing to deliver on this promise has removed any legitimacy for Council to make changes.”

Administration recommended Council to reduce the number of electoral divisions in Rocky View to seven from nine. (Map included in Nov. 22 agenda).

Administration recommended Council to reduce the number of electoral divisions in Rocky View to seven from nine. (Map included in Nov. 22 agenda).

 

Reeve Greg Boehlke, however, supported a top down approach that would have informed residents and ask for comments after Council had given first reading to the proposed draft.

“When you run, here’s your division. If you don’t like it, don’t run,” summarized Boehlke.

Similarly, Boehlke did not see why residents would be displeased and dismissed controversy, noting that besides a letter from a resident in his division, opposition seemed to be confined to a “couple of areas.”

“I really never viewed this as an issue to get cranked up about,” he said.

Coun. Eric Lowther supported giving first reading to one of the options presented by Administration, and stressed the need to make population numbers more equal in County electoral divisions.

“We have some significant differences,” he said. “We do need to address this inequity in population.”

“When you run, here’s your division. If you don’t like it, don’t run.” Reeve Greg Boehlke.

However, the other Council members spoke in support of leaving the nine current election divisions untouched for the current term.

“A first thought is, if ain’t broken—don’t fix it,” said Coun. Lois Habberfield, who stressed constituents do not feel underrepresented. “It’s almost as if we manufactured a problem that we need to solve.”

Div. 1 Coun. Liz Breakey said more information and appropriate time for public consultation are needed before proceeding with a change she called “momentous.”

“We need to allow time for that,” she said. “Spread it over a four-year period rather than trying to compress it into a couple of months.”

Speaking to Council, resident Janet Ballantyne of Div. 2 challenged a report information stating Rocky View decisions could be legally challenged if it did not change boundaries.

“There are no legal obligations that compel municipalities to follow best practices,” she said. “Any risk of legal challenge as a reason to act now rather than with more fulsome information is, at best, tenuous.”

Springbank resident and former councillor Kim Magnuson said a consultation with Alberta Municipal Affairs revealed that municipalities set out criteria other than population numbers when it comes to balance electors in different divisions.

“For instance, how many km of roadways are in each division; what density of villages and hamlets; how many electors are there,” she said.

“Municipal Affairs have found that municipalities, in general, look at what works best, what is fair and what is equitable for both councillors and the residents.”

Electoral divisions to remain unchanged

Report to constituents

By Jerry Arshinoff
Rocky View County Councillor
Div. 2 Springbank

Jerry Arshinoff (2)Yesterday Council decided to not change the electoral boundaries until after the next election and even then only after meaningful public input. 

This was as pleasant as it was surprising.

Thanks to the many who submitted emails and-or spoke at Council.

Springbank Area Structure Plan – Education Session – Nov. 29 at 6 p.m.

Rocky View County will be holding an education and awareness event to prepare stakeholders for public engagement on the Springbank Area Structure Plan (ASP).

County Administration will outline the Public Hearing and decision-making role of Council as part of the public engagement.

The event will be held on the evening of November 29 at 6 p.m. at the Springbank Heritage Club, 244168 Range Rd. 33 at 6.00 pm. There will be short presentation and video at 6:30 p.m.

Further information on the event and the ASP review can be obtained on the County webpage.

All aspects and discussions re the upcoming SB ASP are extremely important. We need participation from everyone.

Southwest Calgary Ring Road – Information Sessions 

Next week, on each of Monday Nov. 28, Tuesday Nov. 29 and Wednesday Nov. 30 evenings, there will be info sessions on the ring road at various Calgary locations.

I will be attending on Wednesday, even though it’s the furthest away. For precise times and locations go to the Alberta Transportation website.

(If you live in Springbank you will, hopefully, not go on Tuesday as instead you will go to the Springbank ASP meeting indicated above)

 

 

Opinion: Council majority despises participation

By Enrique Massot
The County News Online

In a display of utter contempt for its electors, a majority block of Rocky View councillors has decided to skip public consultation in anticipation of drawing new electoral boundaries.

On Tuesday, Nov. 22, Council will consider an administrative report on page 284 of the meeting agenda, recommending first reading to a bylaw containing newly drafted boundaries, after which the County would “inform” residents and receive comments before passing second and third reading.

In June, however, Council approved Terms of Reference with a timetable anticipating public engagement on the drafting of new divisions in October.

October came and went and no consultation process started. It should be noted that Administration cannot change a timetable established by Council. As a result, the elimination of a public input process can only be done if Council has given, at the very least, an informal nod of approval.

In its section titled Public Engagement, the staff report noticeably attempts to provide policy support for skipping public participation. It informs Council that the County is only required to advertise the proposed bylaw containing approved new boundaries with no requirement for public participation.

What the report does not say is that Council is not forced to go for the absolute minimum regarding public engagement, but has the power to engage the public as much as it wants.

Then the report becomes a display of contempt for citizens and democratic participation.

“Administration has had extensive consultation with individual councillors (who) are, ultimately, representatives of the people of Rocky View County,” the report read on page 286.

The report glosses over the fact that no one has questioned the ability of Council to make the final decision on proposed new electoral boundaries for Rocky View. Residents just want a say on the shape of the future divisions. They do not want their communities split by electoral division boundaries and want Council to hear them. Noting that residents will be informed after preliminary approval is just blatant hypocrisy.

The next paragraph of the Staff report is another slap in the face of the people in Rocky View—the same people who dutifully bring the tax money which, among other things, is used to pay the councillors’ wages.

“The ability to propose electoral boundaries is a technical process that requires access to mapping expertise, population, economic, and demographic data (as a result) Administration is not proposing workshops or other forms of details (sic) engagement.”

In other words, residents are just too dense to understand the intricacies of drafting electoral boundaries, and therefore need to bug off.

The cherry on the cake, however, is at the very end—it reads like a straightforward provocation to the 42,000 County residents.

“There is also an opportunity under the MGA sections 221 to 226 for residents to petition for a vote on the proposed boundary changes to accept or reject the proposed boundaries.”

Translation: Rocky View Council will draw and approve electoral divisions as it pleases, and residents have the choice to lower their heads—or they are free to write a petition and go knock on doors to gather some 4,200 signatures.

Is there a clearer way of telling residents that they don’t count?

Rocky View restricts input on new electoral divisions

By Enrique Massot
The County News Online

After conducting little consultation on a plan to build a new municipal building, Rocky View County is ready to skip public debate on the configuration of new electoral divisions.

Residents, however, will receive information after Council gives preliminary approval to proposed changes.

Bearspaw resident Mike Edwards, who believes his Div. 8 area may be bounced to Div. 7, said more research should be done on the changes.

“This ‘flip-flop’ makes no sense,” said the 32-year resident. “We regard ourselves as part of Bearspaw, not of Balzac or Madden.”

Administration is recommending Council to reduce the number of electoral divisions in Rocky View to seven from nine. (Map included in Nov. 22 agenda).

Administration is recommending Council to reduce the number of electoral divisions in Rocky View to seven from nine. (Map included in Nov. 22 agenda).

 

On Tuesday, Nov. 22, Council will consider an administrative recommendation to reduce the current nine electoral divisions to seven. Two additional options include nine newly-drafted divisions.

A public hearing will not take place between first reading and second and third final reading.

“…the legislative requirements the County must fulfill prior to second reading of the proposed bylaw is simply to advertise the proposed bylaw,” read the staff report to Council. “There are no other additional legislative requirements.”

For a member of a Rocky View resident group, the process follows a wrong approach.

“This is not a proper review,” said Janet Ballantyne of Rocky View Forward. “It is highly susceptible to gerrymandering since the only group that has been consulted is the sitting councillors.”

Ballantyne said a proper review should be done by an independent group, after fulsome consultation with the public.

The staff report states that after Council gives first reading, Administration will conduct sessions focused on communicating the proposal for “a general public response to the changes.”

An option available to Council is a draft containing nine divisions--same number as now. (Map included in Nov. 22 agenda).

An option available to Council is a draft containing nine divisions–same number as now. (Map included in Nov. 22 agenda).

 

“Any feedback received may help enrich decision making at the second and third reading stages,” the report read. “But under the Municipal Government Act the decision on electoral boundaries is solely the responsibility of Council.”

However, five months ago Council approved Terms of Reference (TOR) with a timeline anticipating the creation of new boundary options and public consultation starting in October.

This, according to the TOR document, aimed to conduct a “transparent process where County residents have an opportunity to be engaged and provide feedback on relevant matters affecting divisional boundaries.”

However, no public consultation took place in October.

The report emphasizes Council’s role in figuring what’s best in terms of new election divisions.

“Councillors are, ultimately, representatives of the people of Rocky View County…and should rightly first provide a general direction of the type of council make-up that best considers the welfare and interests of the County as a whole,” the report states.

The task, the report also states, is complex.

A second nine-division option has been included for Counci's consideration. (Map included in Nov. 22 RVC agenda).

A second nine-division option has been included for Counci’s consideration. (Map included in Nov. 22 RVC agenda).

 

“The ability to propose electoral boundaries is a technical process (and) given Council’s ultimate decision-making role, Administration is not proposing workshops or other forms of details (sic) engagement.”

Ballantyne noted a stark contrast with a current public engagement process launched by Rocky View Schools to change its own boundaries.

“It seems particularly ironic that RV School Board thinks it is important to consult about changing the boundaries for its school board trustees but the County doesn’t,” she said.

The staff report ends by noting that residents do have a right to petition the municipality if they do not agree with the changes.

“There is also an opportunity under the MGA sections 221 to 226 for residents to petition for a vote on the proposed boundary changes to accept or reject the proposed boundaries,” the report ends.

The Municipal Government Act specifies that residents can draft a petition, which needs to be signed “by electors of the municipality equal in number to at least 10 per cent of the population.”

Which would translate to approximately 4,200 signatures.

Rushing voting divisions changes wrong: association

(Editor’s note): The Springbank Community Planning Association says rushing a significant change in electoral boundaries without public consultation would be the wrong approach:

Rocky View Administration is recommending reducing the number of Councillors from nine to seven prior to the October 2017 municipal election.

“ADMINISTRATION RECOMMENDATION: THAT the Electoral Boundaries Bylaw C-7617-2016 (seven division option) be given first reading….” reads the agenda for Rocky View Council’s Nov. 22 meeting.

“Timelines – In accordance to legislative and administrative timelines, Council must give first reading to an amended electoral boundaries bylaw by the December 13, 2016 Council meeting in order to fulfill the requirements to establish new divisional boundaries to be in effect for the next Municipal General Election held on October 16, 2017….

“Administration will be engaging the public regarding the proposed electoral boundary changes after first reading is completed. Under the MGA, section 606, the legislative requirements the County must fulfill prior to second reading of the proposed bylaw is simply to advertise the proposed bylaw. There are no other additional legislative requirements.” (RVC Agenda, Nov 22, pages 284-287).

There is no opportunity for a Public Hearing or meaningful engagement for RV residents.  ‘Engaging the public’ is double-speak for possible Open Houses with information boards, and to simply tell residents about their new Divisions.

How could this affect you?

If you live in Divisions 1 and 2, you would see an amalgamation of these two very distinct Divisions.  There would be one Councillor to represent Bragg Creek, Jumping Pound and most of Springbank as well as most of Highway 8.

This amalgamation of Div’s 1 and 2 poses several issues, in no particular order:

The population figures are not reliable.  The last time RVC conducted a census was in 2013, thus RVC is using Provincial Government figures.  The Federal Government is doing a census in 2017, which would provide accurate figures for this exercise. 

The Springbank Area Structure Plan, which guides development in this area, is on RVC’s list of ASP’s to be commenced this year, with completion next year.

The future estimated population figures for the development of Harmony, Bingham Crossing and Springbank Creek have not been taken into consideration.

While Bragg Creek and Jumping Pound have seen a general decrease in population, residents’ needs differ significantly from those of Springbank and the Highway 8 corridor; present Councillors Breakey and Arshinoff do not see any advantage to the residents in their Divisions.  With only one councillor to cover these two very distinct Divisions, residents would not have an effective voice at Council. 

Councillor Costs: The comparison figures (Red Deer County, Parkland County and Strathcona County) provided by Administration are wrong;  on Friday, Nov 18, Administration adjusted their figures to reflect that Rocky View County is completely in line with or costs less than those three counties. 

Population numbers really should not matter, as most residences in Rocky View may have 1-4 non-voting children in each home.  For example, there are approximately 2,000 voting residents in Springbank (Div 2), but the population is about 3,400.  The same would go for Langdon – pop = 5,000 with less than half of them being voting age. 

What is the rush? 

Why not wait until after the Springbank Area Structure Plan (ASP) is complete and we have an accurate up-to-date population number? 

Similarly, there are ASP’s in progress for east RV (Conrich and Omni) and Hwy 1A (Glenbow Ranch) that are not mentioned with respect to their population build-out.

Harmony has about 25 homes built, Bingham Crossing is likely to begin construction next year, and there is no word yet when Springbank Creek will begin building.

Springbank could begin to be inundated with population next year, something that Administration has conveniently excluded from their report.

To get a better understanding of what is happening, go to rockyview.ca, click on GovernmentCouncilAgenda, then download “full agenda”.  This is Item E-1 on pages 284-287.

If you have comments or an opinion on this, please let Council know before the Nov. 22 meeting.

 

Council to consider changes to electoral boundaries

Coun. Jerry Arshinoff’s report to constituents

(Note : Electoral Boundaries is on the Council Agenda for this Tuesday, Nov. 22)

Electoral Boundaries: Letter from Janet Ballantyne, of Rocky View Forward to Rocky View County residents

Janet Ballantyne

Janet Ballantyne

I wanted to be sure everyone was aware that changes to our electoral division boundaries will be coming back to Council for a decision at next Tuesday’s Council meeting.  I would also like to encourage everyone to send an email to all the Councillors expressing your concerns on the topic. (Council email addresses are below)

Here are the details on why I think we should all be concerned.

(1)   When Council approved the terms of reference for the review back in June, they included a requirement for public consultations.  These have not occurred and are no longer planned.  Staff is now planning “information” session so people will know which electoral division they have ended up in.

It seems particularly ironic that (as Samanntha pointed out a while ago) RV School Board thinks it is important to consult about changing the boundaries for its school board trustees but the County doesn’t consult on changing its electoral division boundaries.  This is particularly inappropriate (in my mind at least) since they may well change the number of divisions as well as the boundaries between divisions.

Without necessary (and promised) consultations, I would argue that Council doesn’t have the moral authority to make substantive changes.

(2)   In my opinion, the material that has been presented to support staff’s recommendations is seriously flawed.  For example, they have emphasized that the majority (56%) of rural municipalities have seven councillors.  That’s true, but it is also true that RVC has a larger population than any other rural municipality.  If you look at residents / councillor – what I would think is a fairer comparison – only one other rural municipality (Parkland County) comes even close to RVC in terms of number of residents represented by each elected official (somewhere over 4000 residents/elected official for both counties).

(3)   Staff’s recommendations for both seven and nine division councils cut across existing communities.  There is jurisprudence that indicates that populations in each division should be within +/-25% of average.  But the jurisprudence also clearly states that factors such as maintaining communities justify deviations up to the +/-25%.  Staff have focussed exclusively on minimizing deviations, to the detriment of maintaining communities.

(4)   Council is planning to do a major review of the County’s governance structure after the next election.  That may well result in substantive changes to electoral divisions, etc.  I would argue that it is foolhardy to impose substantive changes to the electoral divisions now and then again after the next election.

(5)   Council has approved a number of large residential developments that are not yet realities – Harmony, Langdon, Balzac, Conrich – to name only a few.  There is no way to know which of these will build out or how quickly.  As a result, whatever changes are made now are not likely to be sustainable – so why rush though changes that they should know will not last.

Anyway, I think it would be useful for all the Councillors to hear from as many residents as possible so they realize that people do care about how they are represented.  Feel free to cherry-pick from my lengthy list and encourage your friends and family to also send in emails over the next few days.

Janet Ballantyne
Rocky View Forward

 Additional Points you should know:

In addition to Janet’s excellent points I add:

  • All proposed recommended changes the electoral boundaries are hugely disadvantageous to west RV (For example, Springbank and Bearspaw would each be cut into two separate divisions, Bragg Creek would no longer have their own Council member) . In many cases the proposed changes would also be disadvantageous for east Rocky View.
  • Admin’s recommendations (and presumably Council’s decision) are largely based on population and Council cost per resident of Rocky View as compared to other municipalities. The population statistics given by RV are invalid as they are not all taken from the same year. The cost per resident is out by as much as 300% (Eg: Admin correctly states the RV cost per resident $14.82 and compares that to a $7.91 cost per resident in Red Deer County. The cost per resident in Red Deer County is $24.26, not $7.91.)
  • Next year we will have a census. Then we can use real population statistics instead of guesses.
  • If we wait a year or two to change the boundaries we will be able to have proper public consultation, have a far better idea of the economy (price of oil) and a far better idea of the likely growth as referred to in Janet’s point #5.

Council email addresses:

LBreakey@rockyview.ca
mbahcheli@rockyview.ca
jarshinoff@rockyview.ca
rashdown@rockyview.ca
esolberg@rockyview.ca
gboehlke@rockyview.ca
lhabberfield@rockyview.ca
elowther@rockyview.ca
bkendall@rockyview.ca

Springbank ASPs Education Session – Nov. 29 at 6 p.m.

Please note that the County will be holding an education and awareness event to prepare stakeholders for public engagement on the Springbank ASPs. Administration will outline the Public Hearing and decision making role of Council as part of the public engagement.

The event will be held on the evening of November 29th, 2016 at the Springbank Heritage Club, 244168 Range Rd. 33 at 6.00 pm. There will be short presentation and video at 6.30 pm.

Further information on the event and the ASP review can be obtained on the County webpage:

I will send reminders as we get closer to Nov 29 but please plan on attending.

All aspects and discussions re the upcoming Springbank ASP are extremely important. We need participation from everyone.

 

Opinion: Residents’ group a welcome addition

By Enrique Massot
County News Online

The emergence of a long overdue group is a welcome addition with potential to change the political landscape in Rocky View County.

Why, however, would there be a need for representation other than the County’s nine councillors who are elected every four years?

Because this municipality of 40,000 residents has been in the grips of pro-development Council majorities for the last 15 years.

Samanntha Wright, Rocky View Forward president.

Samanntha Wright, Rocky View Forward president.

Voters only learned in 2010 and again in 2013, thanks to new provincial disclosure requirements, the extent to which developers had been financing the election campaigns of candidates with hidden pro-development agendas.

Such candidates, as soon as they take their Council seats, set to work on their agendas. As for the residents’ needs, pro-development councillors show little interest and even less disposition to act on their behalf.

Four of six pro-development current members of Council had their election campaigns financed entirely or almost entirely by the development and building industry. Provincial law, however, mandates that campaign donations be disclosed after the election, so citizens must cast their vote without this vital piece of information on candidates.

Which underscores the need for a group like Rocky View Forward.

Residents need their own independent organization to gather, exchange information, and devise ways of evaluate candidates before an election. Citizens became even more vulnerable after developers set up their own lobby organization—Rocky View 2020—in 2013. The group was set up out of concern about a new municipal development plan—the County Plan—that calls for moderate growth in 17 areas of Rocky View.

Developers covet the County’s abundant supply of agricultural lands surrounding Calgary they purchase at a much lower cost than urban land. They do not want limits as to where or how much development can occur.

They can then obtain municipal approvals to change land use, to urban from rural, and pocket higher profits.

Developers want a Council blocking implementation of high standards, and bet on a Council unwilling to impose development levies so that they can improve their bottom line.

Corporations with projects worth millions will direct significant amounts of money and staff, working year round lobbying to further their employers’ goals.

Individually, residents busy with their day-to-day lives are no match for such opponents.

The sad reality, Rocky View Forward president Samanntha Wright said, is that “Residents don’t have those resources so it isn’t a level playing field.”

However, if residents from around the County put together their resources, they have a good chance to get back their local government and make Rocky View a welcoming, progressive municipality able to keep its best natural qualities.

Just as an example among many others, where Calgary charges $32,000 per acre to fund the construction of facilities such as fire halls, police stations, libraries and recreation centres, Jump a few yards over the boundary and you are in Rocky View, which has a recreation levy of $800 per residential unit or per acre of commercial development. To top it all, payment of this levy is…voluntary. As a result, any facility Rocky View builds has to be funded by the public purse.

Cochrane Lake's flooding was a showcase of the ravages of poorly planned development. Photo: County News archive.

Cochrane Lake’s flooding was a showcase of the ravages of poorly planned development. Photo: County News archive.

 

As a result of the successive pro-development majorities, the County has become indebted, its services eroded, residents in communities such as Langdon have been for years asking for a recreation facility, and residents have been fighting losing battles against out-of-character proposals encroaching into their communities.

The County, which was virtually debt-free until 2005, borrowed heavily to build costly water and sewage infrastructure servicing development on its east side, creating a stubborn long-term debt that remains significant to this day.

Competition for urban development has prompted Calgary to end mutual-aid fire protection agreements, increasing the County’s fire protection costs and forcing a limited service with first-arrival crews too small and unable to enter burning buildings for rescue.

These and other disadvantages are souring the life of Rocky View residents, who still need to pay their taxes in time—or face stiff penalties for late payment.

Being able to have a citizens’ organization should help create a better environment in the County—one in which the residents come first.

Editor’s note: This column was updated Nov. 14, 2013.

Residents launch Rocky View grassroots group

Enrique Massot
County News Online

Residents from all corners of Rocky View have decided to join forces and work for better local government.

Samanntha Wright, a Bearspaw resident, speaks in Springbank. Photo: Enrique Massot

Samanntha Wright, a Bearspaw resident, speaks in Springbank. Photo: Enrique Massot

“Over the past 15 years, Rocky View Council’s track record has not been effective in protecting residents’ interests,” said Samanntha Wright at a Nov. 7 annual meeting of the Springbank Community Planning Association.

Wright, a Bearspaw resident and former candidate to Council, announced the launching of Rocky View Forward (RVF), the first-ever County-wide, grassroots movement.

She said residents throughout Rocky View feel marginalized by a local government focused on meeting the needs of private investors to the detriment of local taxpayers.

Wright said problems are piling up across the County:

  • Storm water problems created by poorly planned development
  • The County’s inability to pay back a $60-million debt created to build infrastructure servicing development
  • An expensive new municipal building has been pushed ahead with a token public consultation
  • Council has refused to introduce a needed voters’ list to make elections more reliable

County officials have mentioned the need to increase the County’s tax revenue, especially from the non-residential sector. They have also said the $60-million debt, plus the cost of upgrading a sewage treatment plant, will eventually be paid through developers’ levies—if the required amount of development occurs.

Janet Ballantyne, RVF secretary, said the Rocky View Council is considering a major revamping of existing electoral divisions without the extensive public consultation that such a project requires.

West Rocky View resident Janet Ballantyne speaks on Nov. 7. Photo: Enrique Massot

West Rocky View resident Janet Ballantyne speaks on Nov. 7. Photo: Enrique Massot

“Without public consultation, Council does not have moral authority to do those changes,” she said.

Wright said the County has failed to implement appropriate levies contributing to the cost of amenities such as recreation centres, leaving it to the public purse to make up for the financial shortcomings.

“Industry has paid staff whose job is to lobby governments to ensure their interests are heard and met” said Wright. “Residents don’t have those resources so it isn’t a level playing field.”

Rocky View Forward proposes to fill such void by becoming a collective, strong voice for County residents.

“We believe that residents should have a voice beyond casting their votes every four years,” said Wright. “Involvement is key to tipping the balance away from private interests back to residents.”

For more information, check RockyViewForward.com