April 23rd, 2024

Public hearing begins into development plan

By Tim Kalinowski on March 3, 2021.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDtkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

Focused development or “running madly off in all directions?” That was the question of the day during Monday’s Lethbridge city council public hearing, (the first of five days), on the new Municipal Development Plan.
Lethbridge Building Industry and Land Development Association executive officer, Bridget Mearns, took aim at a provision (Policy 15) within the proposed MDP which would limit development in the city to six prescribed areas (two on the west, north and south sides) for the next few decades going forward– a measure intended to ensure currently incomplete neighbourhoods with Outline Plans would be completed before opening new areas up for development in the City.
Mearns said she did not know why council would be seeking to interfere in the natural functioning of local real estate market that way by passing the new MDP.
“Development is driven by consumer demand,” she explained, “and I think it is important to understand that developers don’t just open up development areas or develop areas at the flip of a switch. These are well-considered decisions that are based on a number of factors.”
Mearns pointed to what is referred to as the “Hubbard land,” a newly proposed development on the other side of the ATB Centre which currently does not have an Outline Plan where the investor had hoped to begin building in the next few years. If council passes Policy 15 in the MDP as it currently stands, she said, and that area isn’t one of the two prescribed areas chosen on the westside, the developer might have to wait over a decade before construction could begin after being limited by the change in policy.
“It is a valuable piece of land,” Mearns explained, “that the purchaser purchased based on the current policies, would be affected to the tune of millions of dollars should this policy change because there isn’t an Outline Plan.”
Mearns said council should let the market decide as to how development proceeds in the city, as it has always done, and work with BILD and other partners to ensure its concerns about incomplete neighbourhoods are addressed another way.
“The issue here is these (proposed) restrictions aren’t necessary,” she said, “and they don’t really make sense. And can have these terrible consequences by putting this in the MDP.”
Coun. Jeffrey Coffman suggested he would like to see some sort of policy in place which would prescribe which areas need to be developed first just to make it easier for the City to manage growth and development better. He asked Mearns if keeping Policy 15, but extending its application out until 2024 may give developers more time to adjust their operations to the new reality in a less intrusive way.
“We have discussions when we do the offsite levy bylaw, and we talk about growth projections and growth areas,” responded Mearns. “I am really not sure what this is trying to achieve by being so prescriptive. I think there are other avenues to achieve this without it being a ‘You shall,’ and require policies that are affecting this. I just think that market is what dictates these things, and not policy.”
City of Lethbridge urban construction manager Byron Buzunis said it is not unreasonable for a municipality to want to manage growth and development in a controlled way to ensure the best use of the resources and city infrastructure available for development.
“When you fill in a neighbourhood quickly, it creates a number of things,” he stated; “efficient use of those infrastructure investments, because the people in those areas pay you back for the infrastructure you invested in. That’s the offsite levy cashflow. You also end up with less under-utilized infrastructure. You have fewer kilometres of road to plow with fewer cars on them, fewer fire stations to cover the same amount of people because they are filling in one neighbourhood instead of 12 or 13. And then you also get things like commercial development coming on sooner because you have the housetops to make it worthwhile for a commercial area to move into that (neighbourhood).”

Update: The remaining public hearing dates for the MDP were cancelled on Tuesday after city staff realized it had made an error in advertising them. They will be rescheduled for a later date. Previously the story stated the hearing would continue all this week until Friday.

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