As I have knocked on doors throughout the County, several people have raised questions regarding the growth plans for Strathcona County and the Bremner growth node.
Certainly, the decision to pursue the Bremer growth node results in strong emotions both for and against this decision. However, in order for the public to better understand our path forward, we must first ensure the facts about the past are clear.
When I was first elected as a councillor in 2007, the Capital Region Board had already determined that the region would double in population by 2040. The Capital Region Board is made up of the municipalities in the Edmonton region and plans the growth of the region. It was this group that determined Strathcona County would only have two options for residential growth - Bremner and Colchester.
Councils since that time were unable or unwilling to decide on what area of growth to choose. Recognizing that not having a plan for growth would limit our community, in the 2013 election campaign I promised I would lead Council to a decision within our four-year term. I can honestly say it has been one of my most challenging tasks.
As a Councillor and as Mayor, I have consistently advocated against urban development in the Bremner area. I fully appreciate the value and importance of these agricultural lands. That is why I championed getting more complete information and going that extra mile requesting a comparative growth study for the Colchester area. This gave Council the opportunity to look at both options based on the same criteria (https://pub-strathcona.escribemeetings.com/filestream.ashx?DocumentId=4602 )
My own review of the two options led me to again vote against Bremner. Unfortunately, a Mayor only has one vote on Council and not enough other members agreed with me. Council selected Bremner by a vote of 6-2. The debate can be found here: https://pub-strathcona.escribemeetings.com/Meeting?Id=dd1f80db-5de6-49cc-a896-5c952d6d6057&Agenda=Agenda&lang=English#35
It was a tough day for me. I did believe that the comparison between Colchester and Bremner proved that Colchester was the better choice. Before Council made made their decision, our completed Agriculture Master Plan confirmed what I have always believed – great agricultural land should be protected at every opportunity.
This is where my personal opinion conflicted with my role as the Mayor and as Council’s spokesperson. When the vote was done, it was my job to communicate the democratic decisions of Council. It is the Mayor’s role to represent Council decision publicly and at regional and sub-regional tables. To not represent the majority vote on Council would be unethical.
Since the decision, our revised Municipal Development Plan, which now has Bremner as our future urban growth area, has been accepted by the Capital Region Board. Personally, I was not as upset as some members of Council when the Capital Region Board chose to reduce the footprint of Bremner by over 50 percent and limit the amount of agricultural land to be developed. A small victory to be sure but a noteworthy one.
As we go forward, the City of Edmonton has clearly stated both in their input on the Bremner Growth Study and the Colchester Growth Study, that they would only support the reduced Bremner growth node. Under the current Capital Region Board process, the City of Edmonton has a veto on the Board. If Strathcona County were to submit a new growth plan to the Capital Region Board the City of Edmonton would have the opportunity to use that veto.
Facing a veto in the Capital Region Board process, means that we must carefully consider any change to the current Municipal Development Plan. In order to change that statutory plan Strathcona County would first be required to undertake public consultation, as well as public hearings. Then the Municipal Development Plan would need to be resubmitted to council for a vote.
While Council very well could go through this process again and approve Colchester as the growth node, our community would face the prospect of our preferred option being rejected by the Capital Region Board. This would leave our community with no opportunity to grow for many years to come.
I promised in my last campaign that our community would not be left in limbo again – that the 2013-2017 Council would make a decision and we did. It certainly was not the decision I had hoped for but now landowners can finally make decisions regarding their future. Something they were unable to do in the era of certainty from 2006-2016.
We are still many, many years away from Bremner’s development and the area is designed to be built over a 30-year time frame. Growth will only occur as population and the economy demands. There are many decisions still to be made long before shovels are in the ground or other infrastructure built.
An Area Concept Plan (ACP) is currently underway and anticipated to be complete by December 2018. After that developers need to develop and submit Area Structure Plans (ASP) which must be approved by Council and the Capital Region Board. These processes will include more opportunities for the public to provide further input on the design of Bremner. As always, I encourage residents to participate in this process and will listen.
Some residents have expressed concerns about the costs for key infrastructure to support the Bremner development. I am committed to protect your tax dollars and ensure growth will not be on the backs of existing taxpayers.
As an experienced Mayor I will ensure developers pay the costs for servicing these lands. I have led Council as they have remained firm on this practice despite constant pressures. In addition, the relationships I have built with the provincial government will benefit this community as we seek their support for major infrastructure to accommodate this new development.
In large developments like Bremner the costs are shared. There are three categories of costs: subregional, offsite and onsite.
Subregional infrastructure costs are picked up by the province. A recent example is the Anthony Henday ring road. Strathcona County paid minimal design costs for the actual interface with our existing road connections. Following established practises, major infrastructure needed on provincial Highways 16 and 21 would be paid by the province.
The pipes and road hookups that connect the development to existing infrastructure are considered offsite costs. These are often paid through a mix of municipal and developer cost sharing. The County has historically participated in this area because some of the amenities that benefit from the infrastructure are ours – fire halls, recreation facilities, libraries, etc.
Onsite levies paid by the developer are used to pay for all onsite roads, trails, pipes and utilities like communications. Strathcona County has also imposed levies on developers to pay for a portion of recreation, social and emergency services. This represents a significant portion of project costs for Bremner.
Finally, many decisions have been made since Bremner was selected. Individual landowners, businesses, and other regional governments have made strategic decisions based on the conclusion to this longstanding debate. As a municipality we could be vulnerable to numerous legal and bureaucratic challenges, which could cost our taxpayers. Not just additional funds but years of delay.
We must plan and prepare for future growth. To do otherwise creates future problems for our citizens. Houses would become even less affordable as supply dwindles. Economic opportunities are missed because we don’t have appropriately designated or serviced land.
Growth is never easy. But what makes it even harder is not having a plan. Strathcona County now has the long-range plan that allows us to move forward.