As Springbank continues to digest the approval of a shopping centre and seniors’ housing complex in a Rocky View County hay field, a resident says developers’ influence on local government often leads to poor decisions.
“They will continue to develop things that don’t fit in any community,” said Craig Forsberg. “They will follow the line of: ‘of course you will want this – it’s what everyone wants.”
But are decisions such as those taken by the Rocky View Council on Bingham Crossing an isolated occurrence?
Rocky View’s Municipal Development Plan, the highest level planning document, contains a land-use strategy that vows to preserve agricultural lands by discouraging “intrusive and/or incompatible land uses…to allow agricultural activity to continue with a minimum land-use conflict.”
However, municipal planners have been referring to another section of the MDP titled Business Development to recommend approval of proposals.
“Diversification of business development is important to the economy of the Municipality,” reads that section of the MDP.
However, the plan ads, “Commercial and industrial uses should be facilitated which are of a scale and character which integrate into the existing land use pattern.”
Could it be said that Bingham phase one and the planned following phases are “of a scale and character which integrate into the existing land use pattern?”
No if we believe a majority of Springbank residents, their representative in Council and three neighbouring councillors. Yes according to the developer, the five-councillor majority from other areas who voted for the proposal, and some landowners with properties in the Bingham area and other areas in Rocky View.
So is Bingham Crossing an example of made-in-Rocky View sprawl?
According to one of many definitions, rural sprawl “Consumes the forests, wetlands, and agricultural lands. It requires more roads, and more infrastructure that is more costly than building compact environments,” noted Norberto Rodriquez dela Vega in his article Rural Smart Growth, published by B.C.’s Watershed Sentinel.
Forsberg notes that even the City of Calgary, which has stated a will to increase density, has left a door open to outward expansion and therefore to more sprawl.
In a Calgary Herald article, Calgary will Continue to Sprawl, published Nov. 17, Steven Snell noted the City of Calgary’s recently reviewed Municipal Development Plan vows to “endeavour to accommodate 33 per cent of Calgary’s future population growth within Developed Residential Areas of the city by 2039.”
“Said in another way: 67 per cent of Calgary’s new development, until 2039, is to be greenfield development, or simply, replacing agriculture and ranching lands with new communities.”
In regard to decision-making, Max Foran described in his book Expansive Discourses—Urban Sprawl in Calgary, 1945-1978, how “land developers and municipal authorities combined to create the template for residential urban sprawl.” (Page 3).
Foran noted how the industry kept one step ahead of the communities in their relationship with City Hall.
“The developers were very proactive in their dealings with the City,” he wrote on Page 18. “They made their intentions quite clear through consistent and insistent correspondence and representations,”
In one of his most striking examples, Foran describes how City departments’ advise was disregarded during a 1976 debate to decide where 127,000 expected new residents should be housed.
Two options to increase density and house 80,000 new residents in built-up areas with existing infrastructure had the favour of eight of 11 City departments. The options would reduce annexation to a minimum, discouraging car use.
“Under this more compact city, there would be a major shift towards public transit,” noted Foran on Page 118.
However, the Calgary chapter of the Urban Development Institute that represented the industry strongly opposed those options, favouring annexation instead.
In March 1977, the City adopted policy that abandoned densification, instead calling for annexation of land to provide housing for 120,000 prospective new citizens.
“The more compact urban form that had been so firmly advocated in the favoured two strategies had been sacrificed for a continuation of the status quo through widespread outward development,” noted Foran on Page 120. “The developers had got what they wanted.”
The over sized footprint of the City, its cookie-cutter, car-dependant neighourhoods, its lack of community amenities, have been choices of the development industry, helped by a complacent City Council, to build and sell houses at the cheapest price. Sprawl, however, has been costly to the taxpayers in terms of infrastructure and services that had to be constantly upgraded to follow expansion. The City is now making some attempts to change course, which opens a unique opportunity for the region if Rocky View abandons its competition for urban development.
A Rocky View County living up to its rural vocation could enter into a unique, mutually beneficial partnership with a more sustainable, compact Calgary.
By honouring its rural roots, the county could be the proud steward of a unique, wide area made up of working farms and ranches, healthy open spaces and clean watersheds, keeping expenses low and fulfill its residents’ vision.
That regional servicing will become available is only a matter of time. In partnership with the City, Rocky View could obtain water and sewer for its residents at a moderate cost. By giving up on urban development, the County could be on a better foot to ask the City to grow up instead of out.
For that to happen, however, both the City and the County need politicians representing their communities, elected by keenly aware citizens, who would take into account the overall interest of their jurisdictions, with an eye on the region.