By Tim Kalinowski on August 5, 2021.
Lethbridge County is seeking public and stakeholder feedback on its new draft Municipal Development Plan as the county prepares for new investment opportunities and copes with pressures of keeping agricultural lands intact going forward.
Lethbridge County supervisor of planning and development Hilary Janzen says it has been 11 years since a full MDP update was last completed in the municipality, and currently does not fully account for the rapid growth and development the county has experienced in that time.
“The basis of what we do in many rural municipalities is around agriculture; so we want to keep that focus on agriculture because that is really where we see the primary intent of this policy is to reduce the amount of land that is being converted from agriculture or grazing lands into things like residential, commercial and industrial,” states Janzen.
Janzen says, at the same time, the new MDP is seeking to strike a balance on this front by encouraging expanded development in hamlets and other areas already dedicated for commercial and industrial purposes. By encouraging development in these areas, and expressing these types of land use preferences to prospective investors, Lethbridge County is hoping to channel development in a more controlled way, says Janzen.
“Previously we had a stronger focus on agriculture, but how this new (MDP) is being drafted is looking at how we can incorporate more opportunities to diversify the economy within the County without tearing away at that agricultural fabric,” she states. “It’s kind of looking at that locational criteria for businesses. How can we support smaller businesses like home occupational businesses in rural areas so people can start a business and get it going? And then when they get big enough, we want to be in a better area or better location for those bigger industries. So looking next to highways, looking at where infrastructure exists, and trying to be more proactive in terms of where those opportunities are instead of reactive.”
Janzen says the County is also seeking through the MDP to put a stronger emphasis on complimentary developments, such as food-processing or value-added initiatives, to the county’s existing agricultural industry.
“It is really important for us as a municipality to diversify the economy,” she confirms. “So one of the things we are looking at specific to commercial, industrial is doing that value-added production to agricultural products to ensure we are enhancing what we already have in the county. That has been a priority, and we wanted to carry on with it in this particular iteration of the Municipal Development Plan.”
Janzen admits increasing demand for country residential development poses a much greater challenge to county planners than industrial or commercial development, particularly in terms of finding the balance between preserving agricultural land and the desire of some families to subdivide and sell off corners of their lands for residential development.
“We have seen a lot of pressure in the last 10 years in terms of more country residential development,” she acknowledges. “Areas closer to the city face more demand for that, because they still want the services and amenities alongside that more country-type living. So we do have a lot of pressure, and it is something we do look at under our country residential land use strategy.”
The fact that agriculture, particularly on dryland quarters, cannot compete with residential development on a value for dollar basis makes the directive to preserve agricultural and grazing lands whenever possible an important and necessary inclusion in the new MDP, Janzen says.
“That (valuation of agricultural land) is a challenge we often face, because it isn’t monetarily valued (as highly),” she says. “It is valued in other ways such as social structures and environmental structures, but not from that economic basis.”
Janzen says she expects these development and growth pressures to only increase in Lethbridge County, and feels the new Municipal Development Plan is making strides to get ahead of those pressures and provide strong guidance for growth going forward.
“It is important to try to find that balance between supporting this agricultural community, and the value that it has in terms of supporting the (broader) community,” she says. “Because we have seen so much development happening in the last few years, and much of it has been closely tied to agriculture, we wanted to make sure we are not driving too far in one direction or another in terms of having development at all costs or having no development.”
To view the new draft MDP document visit the Lethbridge County website.
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