Foothills councillors are petitioning to have the County removed from the regional growth board.
The Calgary Metropolitan Region Board growth plan, servicing plan and regional evaluation framework were approved by the CMRB on May 21 with dissenting votes from Foothills County, Rocky View County and Wheatland County.
It passed with votes from Calgary, Okotoks, High River, Chestermere, Cochrane, Airdrie and Strathmore.
Foothills County launched an online petition at Change.org on July 13 to have the municipality removed from the CMRB. It had received 340 signatures by 4 p.m. on July 16.
“We just need to add a little bit of extra oomph to try to get our point across and make sure we’re heard,” said Coun. Delilah Miller, adding she had pushed to have council take action.
She said the Town of Strathmore recently penned a letter to Municipal Affairs MInister Ric McIver requesting its removal from the CMRB as well, much to the surprise of the rural municipalities.
“If Strathmore would have voted that way at the end of May the growth plan would not have had the two-thirds majority it needed to move the plan forward and it would have been squashed,” said Miller.
Foothills County also wrote a letter to the minister, but decided to take one more step with the petition, to bring resident voices forward as well, she said.
Miller has been raising concerns over the plan for two years, and in recent months has brought forward studies that show tax increases in the Greater Toronto Area after a regional growth plan was established, as well as increases in Portland, Oregon.
With the growth plan now in place, she said the CMRB is meeting soon to create a transit plan for the region and she’s worried about what that would mean for Calgary’s outlying municipalities, such as Okotoks and High River, which will likely have to shoulder fees for having a transit line to their community.
A recreation plan is also coming down the pipe, and Miller said it’s likely regional municipalities will be expected to chip in for it as well.
She said when those bills come in, she’ll be first in line to say, “I told you so.”
“’I told you this was coming down and none of you would listen,’” said Miller. “It’s going to benefit Calgary, not them.”
The growth plan doesn’t support initiatives to keep residents working and living in their own communities, she said – it enhances the bedroom community feel.
She said limiting development in the rural communities will encourage developers to skip over the region and develop elsewhere because costs will become astronomical.
“Once you pigeonhole a piece of land and say that this is the only place you can develop in Foothills County, guess what the prices do? They go through the roof,” said Miller.
Intermunicipal agreements that had been in place with Okotoks and High River for recreation and other infrastructure were “ironclad” and should be kept intact rather than using a regional growth plan, she said.
The County pays more than $1 million per year each to Okotoks and High River for shared services, she said. If the rural municipality starts feeling the crunch from growth board projects like a transit or recreation plan, those contributions would be cut.
“In order to keep our taxes low we’re going to start cutting our shared service agreements – that’s what’s going to go first,” said Miller.
She said the County’s issues around the CMRB don’t seem to be heard by urban counterparts but she’s not willing to give up the fight.
“It’s frustrating, but I’ll continue to pound the pavement as long as I’m on council,” said Miller.
Reeve Suzanne Oel said the petition is just one more option in the County’s call to action against the CMRB and growth plan.
“We really hope residents will sign on over the summer and we can present this to our MLAs and the municipal affairs minister to show our grave concerns,” said Oel.
In addition to the online petition, she said the County website has been updated to include a detailed report on the growth plan and the challenges it poses for Foothills, as well a list of the future work and commitments involved with the CMRB and results from public engagement over the past six months.
She said the “What We Heard” section is telling.
“It really shows that residents had a strong opinion of opposition,” said Oel. “We saw a huge support from the residents from other communities, too, who said – ‘What’s going on here?’”
Over the course of the summer, she hopes to see more residents sign the petition and communities like Rocky View, Wheatland and Strathmore follow suit in their municipalities as well, she said.
It’s about more than just the growth plan, she said.
“We continue to see this as an unfair voting structure in the board itself with unfair proportion of seven urbans versus three rural municipalities,” said Oel. “It’s a fourth layer of government adding more red tape.
“And there is definitely a protectionist urban bias that has emerged in the regional plan that results in the loss of rural opportunity and increased development and business costs.”
She said the rural municipalities are witnessing first-hand what could become the norm should the CMRB and its growth plan remain as-is.
On July 23, three of Rocky View County’s submissions are being challenged by the City of Calgary and other urban municipalities, said Oel. She said the projects have gone through Rocky Views’ approval process and been evaluated by a third-party professional and the CMRB administration, but are still being challenged.
“It’s showing that really something to be approved has to be approved by the will of Calgary,” said Oel. “Because of the voting structure, we’re at the mercy of that and we really are seeing actively how our democracy is being undermined by officials that are not part of our own approving authority.”
For more information visit www.foothillscountyab.ca.