By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
The Town of Coaldale’s review of the Integrated Development Strategy has been completed.
During their regular March 11 meeting, Coaldale town council was presented with the results of the IDS brief technical review.
The review — which was approved at council’s regular Jan. 14 meeting — was initiated in response to concerns raised during a Dec. 10 public hearing on rezoning parcels of land associated with the Malloy Stormwater project, over proposed developments in the northwest area of Coaldale, an area that was recommended in the IDS to be reserved for wetland, stormwater ponds and similar uses.
Once the review was approved, town and Oldman River Regional Services Commission (ORRSC) staff worked for six weeks, focusing on answering what aspects of the IDS have been implemented since it’s completion; what level did detailed planning/engineering/design deviate from the high-level guidance contained in the IDS for the aspects that were implemented; what level should aspects of the IDS that were not implemented/implemented in part be considered in planning/engineering/design proposals and processes now and into the future; and how to interpret the IDS, as provided by the original authors of the document.
“The IDS is a challenging document to work with, due to its makeup. In that it is part strategic and part broad concept, with enough detailed information to support the broad concepts, but with not quite enough detail to apply and execute these concepts, without first undertaking a more thorough investigation of site-specific conditions and considerations,” said Spencer Croil, director of planning and community development for the town.
“In fact, this is not uncommon with a community planning document. The IDS acts as a broad reaching, bigger picture planning document, would — in the sense that the goals and objectives of such a document can be more focused — the concepts that are contained in that document can be quite preliminary, due to the need to acquire significantly more detail before applying and executing initial concepts.
Croil noted that this is the “reality” of the majority community planning documents at the scale of the IDS, as demonstrated in ORRSC’s findings.
ORRSC senior planner Steve Hardy said he was “around at the time it was undertaken”, and as a planning advisor to Lethbridge County, has some personal insight of the IDS.
“I think one of the things you have to keep in mind, is the Integrated Development Strategy was originally not a planner’s study that was requested by either municipality (Town of Coaldale and Lethbridge County). It was a private landowner, private developer driven initiative,” said Hardy.
“Due to some development pressures, back around 2010, 2011, in Lethbridge County on Coaldale’s doorstep, some of the developers who were, in a sense, put off from developing in Lethbridge County, due to some concerns, came forward with the idea to do the study, to try to get, in a sense, get Coaldale and Lethbridge County to look at their proposal, but also to more broadly look at land use in the area around Coaldale.”
According to the History/Background section of the review’s document, a landowner had wished to develop an agricultural irrigated quarter-section of land for grouped country residential development within Lethbridge County, that was located west of town.
After being turned down by both the town and the county, citing reasons such as the development not being in compliance with their Intermunicipal Development Plan (IDP) agreement, the landowner then put together the idea to formulate a plan to try to address some of the development issues, to help get approval for their development.
The municipalities agreed they would consider a proposal to look at potential development and examine land use issues along the Highway 3 corridor to Coaldale, if a government grant was procured to fund the project, ultimately leading to the IDS being created.
Hardy also noted that the vast majority of the land studied was located in the county, although since then, the town has annexed some of that land.
The study also was not solely focused on land use and land use planning. The grant was obtained from the province’s Rural Community Adaptation Program (RCAP), which aims to support rural economic development.
“Two of the main topics and parts, in order to be included under the Rural Community Adaptation Program grant, was that it was economic development focused, and then looking at stormwater management between the two municipalities, so it just wasn’t land-use based,” said Hardy.
“Basically, the idea was the county and town work together, rather than maybe having competing interests in the area, or through development — such as on Coaldale’s doorstep — the two would try to put a framework, a kind of plan in place, to kind of look at how the town would work together, to solve together things such as where might be suitable for certain types of development, such as what was going on in Lethbridge County on Highway 3 in the Broxburn area, and how that might impact Coaldale, and looking at stormwater that comes from the county into the town, the town’s stormwater, and how that all affects the Malloy Drainage system, and that type of a thing.”
Hardy stressed that it was important to recognize that the IDS was very broad in scope, and is what is know as a conceptual or context plan — which is based on how it deals with broad ideas or concepts. It was not a statutory plan, which outlines how a municipality carries out it’s duties — such as an IDP, which is mandatory under the Municipal Government Act (MGA), or area structure plan, which is voluntary under the MGA — but can be used as a guiding document by the two municipalities.
“There is no requirement that either you or the county has to follow it, that the developers have to follow it, and on matters such as if a development wasn’t (approved) and went to appeal, that type of thing, an appeal board and the Municipal Government (Board), I should say, doesn’t have to respect or follow it either. It’s a study, it’s not a statutory plan.”
Ultimately, what the IDS looked at was a strategy for good planning and stormwater management practices, but it is not specific enough to address competing interests — as there were a number of parties involved in the scope of the document — or provide detailed engineering analysis on land use issues for specific parcels of land.
Hardy also noted there are many factors in detailed planning and decision making by elected officials when it comes to land use planning. In addition to plans and what the planners and engineers recommend, factors such as developer/landowner interest, servicing costs, economic considerations, growth, budget constraints and government priorities can and will change over time, meaning a document’s priorities can change.
Giving an example of when he was a planning advisor for Coaldale several years ago, Hardy noted that the West Coaldale Area Structure plan was in place back then, and was changed five times in about a five-year period.
“With a broad plan, once you go to implement it, that’s when the boots hit the pavement. So once a plan is implemented, and you’re looking at how is this going to work on the ground, what’s the engineering like for servicing, what’s the cost to put a pipe to run from here over there or this other area, where are the landowners in the area, are they willing to participate or not type of thing, that will shape, and sometimes change, council’s directions on a plan,” said Hardy.
“The IDS did not have the specific engineering done, such as some things on stormwater and the town growth, the town growth areas, in order to answer those questions decisively.”
One of the main focuses of the IDS was to address regional stormwater management, which the two municipalities have partnered together to do. Hardy said as they move forward, additional engineering and planning studies will need to be done to move forward with that.
In the review, they also looked at the main issues identified in the IDS and what was implemented, and why some things weren’t implemented. Hardy gave the example of one stormwater component, where the engineer was from Ontario, which has different rules regarding stormwater use.
“They had some information there about reusing stormwater. That’s something that’s not allowed in Alberta under the legislation, so it simply, legally, just cannot be done, at least at this point unless the provincial legislation changes,” said Hardy. “Some of those components, even though it sounds good in practice and sounds like a good idea, technically right now, the county and the Town of Coaldale can’t do that.”
Other recommendations, such as a regional pathway system linking Coaldale with the City of Lethbridge, have been worked on.
“As Coaldale’s evolved, from the 40s and the 50s and the 60s, the Town of Coaldale is not unlike other communities in western Canada, in Alberta here, where you’ve largely been based on what’s called suburban design; you have large lots, cul-de-sacs, streets, those types of things,” said Hardy.
“The focus on planning, over the last number of years, is to go to higher density development, limit the footprint of going out, type of a thing. But because a lot of the existing blocks and streets and infrastructure in Coaldale is based on the old larger suburban design of the 50s and 60s, that’s not something you can just flip a switch and implement overnight. It’s going to take years of redevelopment plans, looking at infill, working with the neighbours in the neighbourhood.
“Some people are opposed to such things, some people are supportive, but it will be done in bits and pieces, here and there, through your plans through the years, and it’s not something that can magically, stroke of adopting a plan and it’s done overnight, because your current town is not designed that way, just like most communities aren’t.”
Croil noted that there are recommendations in the IDS to translate objectives of the different strategies into statutory documents, such as the Town Plan, create a stormwater master plan, and do more research into the topics covered in the IDS.
As an example of that research from a community planning and growth study perspective, he cited a 2015 growth study which included discussion on neighbourhood units, complete communities and smart growth, all which were informed by the IDS. The annexation in 2018 moved those ideas forward.
“By virtue of shifting focus from potentially annexing multiple un-subdivided irrigated quarter sections (south of the town), by shifting from a focus in that area, near the southwest, to drawing a relatively finite line along the western border of the new Coaldale, the idea of a complete community in northwest Coaldale could be achieved,” said Croil.
“We only have one un-subdivided irrigated quarter sections in the town boundary. The rest of the property and the northwest is subdivided and fragmented by highways and other rights of way that would lend it to be more suitable to future growth from a broad, philosophical perspective that the county and the town share, and we essentially have to support by virtue of the fact the provincial land use policies indicate that agriculture is the highest and best use of un-subdivided irrigated quarter sections.”
Additionally, the town has information today that they didn’t have when the IDS was completed.
Due to development of business such as McDonalds and Home Hardware by the Land o’ Lakes Drive and Highway 3 intersection, the town was required to complete a 2016 Traffic Impact Assessment at the request of Alberta Transportation.
The development has triggered a need for signalizing the 30th street intersection by 2026, regardless of where the town grows.
“One of the added benefits of being able to grow in the northwest, and create a more complete community in the northwest, as we’ve been clear about since the annexation application, is the fact that we will have infrastructure that we have to put in place, that will help to make the connection between the north and south as good as it can be.”
Croil said while the IDS does have “good, innovated, thoughtful concepts and goals and objectives and recommendations”, all of these need to be studied further before application, especially in light of changes that have occurred since 2012 and new information made available.
Croil said at this point he didn’t know if there would be any real benefit to the continued consideration of the IDS by changing the motion made during the Feb. 13, 2012 council meeting, which was passed in a 6-0 vote, that stated that: “Councillor (Bill) Chapman moved that Council receives the Integrated Development Strategy – Final Report as a strategic document, elements of which can be used to guide policy and program development in Coaldale; Further that Council refers the study back to the joint Steering Committee to oversee the development of an implementation framework to identify and prioritize actions related to the IDS”.
Mayor Kim Craig noted that from the IDS, the town did adopt a philosophy of treating stormwater as an asset rather then a liability, and their partnership with the county and St. Mary’s River Irrigation District (SMRID) has sprung up from that is another major asset.
Coun. Bill Chapman “concurred” with the mayor, and said he got two takeaways from the IDS review, the first being stormwater management.
“We were closed circuited at that time with stormwater management, and that was the fact that in the day, any water that crossed the boundary lines of the Town of Coaldale became Coaldale’s responsibility and accountable for, and nobody elses. So this was really, kind of the stimulus to kind of build that partnership,” said Chapman.
Another takeaway Chapman said he got was the neighbourhood concept, something which to him, “really wasn’t logical or doable in our historical way of building communities”.
Council passed a motion to receive the report and all attachments for information.