Okotoks residents are encouraged to get informed on the proposed growth plan this spring as council prepares to show its support.
Mayor Bill Robertson said the Town was in favour of extending the timeline for completion of the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board’s (CMRB) growth plan, which will now be presented to the Province by June 1 to allow for more public consultation.
“It’s unfortunate, but most people with their daily busy lives just aren’t interested in the CMRB and I would expect that if you asked most people what the CMRB is they have no idea,” said Robertson. “What the growth plan? They have no idea what the growth plan is.”
That’s in spite of what Robertson called “extensive consultation” undertaken by the CMRB, including online surveys, but out of the more than one million people living in the Calgary region fewer than 200 completed the questionnaires.
One of the main complaints raised by those opposed to the plan, including rural municipalities Foothills County, Rocky View County and Wheatland County, is that not enough responses were received to consider the public consultation adequate, he said.
“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t force it to drink,” said Robertson. “We can’t force people to put in comments on something they’re not interested in.”
He encourages people to read up on the CMRB and the proposed growth plan, and get an understanding of what is included in the regional planning model and then respond to the questions on the CMRB website.
Okotoks believes regional planning is crucial to future development, especially since the area is expected to grow by more than one million people in the next 40 years. It’s about more than development, it’s about taking care of scarce resources, he said.
“Managing our scarce water resources is crucial in this region, so encouraging municipalities to approve developments that are water efficient and having minimum densities and so on, I think is crucial,” said Robertson. “When somebody does something in an area, it has impacts on all adjacent areas.”
He said it’s important to have integrated transportation plans to ensure the region develops efficiently and effectively.
Despite rural municipal members of the CMRB challenging the growth plan and its limits to rural employment and residential development, he said it’s fair to have a set of rules everybody in the region plays by in order to protect resources like water.
“Is Okotoks going to get everything we wanted? No,” said Robertson, adding he would rather not have to submit new Municipal Development Plans, land-use bylaws or area structure plans to the board for approval but will play ball if it’s expected of all members.
“I think the whole thing comes down to compromise,” he added.
There is impact to Okotoks with an added layer of bureaucracy and additional staff time to manage and develop the growth plan, he said.
Foothills County has cited a potential issue with the proposed joint waterline with the Town of Okotoks, as it may not be a viable investment if the rural municipality is unable to develop as it had planned.
Robertson said that issue has been discussed at the Okotoks table as well, and the Town feels as though concessions made to rural municipalities will permit that development.
“The board has allowed them to declare future hamlets after the plan is approved,” he said. “I believe a number of concerns have been addressed."
One of the main bones of contention with the CMRB, and something that has piqued the interest of some residents who have reached out to Town council and staff, is the fact the City of Calgary holds the power of a veto vote, but Robertson said the board also operates under a double-majority, meaning at least seven of 10 members are needed to pass or deny a motion.
During the years of the super majority Calgary Regional Partnership, which preceded the CMRB, and over the past four years since the board came into place, the City has never exercised its veto, he said.
Robertson said he doesn’t feel there’s an issue with the CMRB voting structure.
“Should Okotoks have the same voting power at 30,000 as 1.2 million people? I realistically can’t say that we should,” he said. “That defies logic, in my opinion.”