Opinion: Wintergreen redevelopment approval premature

By Enrique Massot
The County News

It’s difficult to imagine how a proposal to redevelop the Wintergreen ski hill into a residential and commercial subdivision could receive final approval at a Jan. 23 Rocky View council meeting.

“That thing needs to go back to the drawing board 10 times,” former Rocky View councillor Bob Everett told the Cochrane Eagle newspaper.

An administrative report has, for the second time, recommended the Rocky View council to turn down the proposal to build nearly 300 homes, a hotel and commercial space.

Full disclosure: The writer of this op-ed lives near the proposed development and could be impacted for it.

The developer, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR), was given preliminary approval on Nov. 28 but was told to solve a list of outstanding issues prior to final approval consideration.

In spite of the additional time, RCR did not solve any of the pending issues listed by County administration – same for the two and a half years since the application was submitted to Rocky View.

Some of those items include a plan to provide a second egress for the area, and a commitment to upgrade the only access way to the site, a 3.2-km narrow and winding road connecting Wintergreen to Highway 22.

RCR hasn’t committed either to fund upgrades to the Bragg Creek wastewater treatment plant, as advised by County administration. The conversion of a water licence to domestic use has not been approved.

“…approximately 300 residences in an isolated, steeply sloped area…without an emergency egress in the area, is not safe.” Rocky View Administration

The project’s overall density is three times what is allowed in the Greater Bragg Creek area structure plan, but public consultation process as mandated by Rocky View’s highest-level planning document – the County Plan – has not been conducted.

As County planners noted on page 2 of their report to council for the Jan. 23 meeting, “the Applicant has not demonstrated that the subject land is capable of, or suitable for, the proposed development.”

In unusually strong language, planners added, “Creating a community with approximately 300 residences in an isolated, steeply sloped area, with a high/extreme wildfire risk, and a single internal road that funnels all the traffic onto a single access, without an emergency egress in the area, is not safe.”

Some members of the wider community, however, are supporting the project with the argument that the area desperately needs growth. While it is true that the area had negative growth increased by the catastrophic 2013 flood, growth that creates liabilities in terms of infrastructure would just make a bad situation worse.

RCR held open houses were in 2015, but no further action was apparent for two years.

As a result, a Nov. 28 public hearing on the RCR project took many area residents by surprise, as notification letters went to only part of the 80 homes in the adjacent Wintergreen Woods subdivision.

In addition, area residents only learned about the proposal’s unsolved issues at the time of the staff report release, six days prior to the public hearing and after a deadline to send input letters had passed. The public hearing was closed on Nov. 28, reducing total time available for feedback to two to three weeks.

On Jan. 23, council should follow the administration’s recommendation and turn down the project. This does not close the door on the project, but gives the developer opportunity to refine its plans, conduct more public input, and seek a way to solve outstanding issues before reapplying.

However, administration has provided council with an option to approve the plan with amendments – 55 in total. The developer has proposed two amendments – one to reduce the number of rooms in the proposed hotel to 50 from 100, and another that disingenuously proposes that “Rocky View County and the Developer shall explore cost contribution for Wintergreen Road upgrades at the time of subdivision application.” Explore? Rocky View’s policy and practice establishes that infrastructure required for a development must be financed by developers.

However, we shouldn’t blame RCR. After all, their purpose is to maximize profits. It belongs to the municipality and its elected officials to make sure the public good is protected.

County planners have warned council that deferring the resolution of matters to subdivision stage would take bargaining power from council, as subdivision conditions can be appealed to the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board—outside of Council’s jurisdiction.

Little developer commitment leads to believe that approving this proposal could end up in the public purse being forced to finance infrastructure necessary to ensure safety for the RCR’s proposed development and the additional population, estimated to be about 900 persons.

The Municipal Government Act on Section 3a notes that one of the main purposes of municipalities is to ‘develop and maintain safe and viable communities.’

As residents experienced during the 2013 flood, the only egress available can be closed, trapping residents west of the Elbow River. A wildfire requiring quick evacuation could pose an even more acute risk to residents’ lives as choke points at the Balsam Avenue bridge and at the Hamlet of Bragg Creek’s access to Highway 22 could make traffic painfully slow.

Forest fires increasing by the year, the safety of current residents should be paramount in councillors’ minds when considering the RCR proposal.

  • Diane

    It appears we will soon find out who our current Councillors are working for.