By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
Coaldale town council’s efforts to rezone Malloy lands had gained more attention then expected.
During council’s regular Dec. 10 meeting, public hearings were held for two land-use amendment bylaws to rezone two sections of land associated by the Malloy Drain project. The lands in question were annexed from Lethbridge County earlier this year, and needed to be rezoned from a county land designation to a Coaldale one.
The first bylaw, bylaw #749-P-11-18, aims to re-designate lands presently designated as county zoned Rural Urban Fringe (RUF) district to the town’s Urban Reserve (UR). The land is described as the west half of SW 15-9-20 W4M. The second bylaw, bylaw #750-P-11-18, aims to re-designate lands presently designated as county RUF to the town’s Institutional/ Recreational (I/R) district. The land is described as being the east half of SW 15-9-20 W4M, which covers the Malloy Drain Phase 2A area and remaining undeveloped areas.
Coaldale’s director of planning and community development Spencer Croil said the town’s UR land district was the town’s “holding district, for lack of a better term”, and allows for transitional uses for larger parcels of land that will be used for urban development in the future. Almost all of the uses in the UR land district are similar to the county’s RUF, although the UR land districts do not allow for things such as RV storage. Institutional and recreational uses are also allowed within the county’s RUF land district.
Both bylaws were given first reading during Coaldale town council’s regular Nov. 26 meeting, and the public hearings were just for the rezoning of the land, and not for any potential projects that may occur on them. According to the agenda for council’s regular Dec. 11 meeting, not much discussion was anticipated on the bylaw, as the public hearing for bylaw #749-P-11-18 was scheduled to start at 2:10 p.m., with the public hearing for bylaw #750-P-11-18 to start at 2:15 p.m. However, council chambers were packed with people attending the public hearings, and sitting room had to be arranged in the town office’s lobby at the entrance of the chambers in order to accommodate people.
According to administration, at the time the council packages were being put together for the public hearings, no letters had been submitted in regards to the bylaws. However, two attendees came with letters that they read from. When the floor opened up to the public, the reason for the large attendance became clear; they were concerned with what could be developed on the land.
Speaking in regards to both bylaws, Coaldale resident Liz Allen, who lives nearby the two sites being rezoned, voiced concern over the land being developed for the use of the new planned high school and joint recreation center, criticizing both the use of the land and the potential location for the high school.
“To say the neighbours were in disbelief of a future high school/rec center being placed on the north side of Coaldale, is an understatement. Some compared it to if Coalhurst and it’s busy highway were to buy some land across the highway and put a high school out there — that’s how much sense this makes to us,” said Allen, who had with her a letter to the town and a petition signed by neighbours. “If rezoning the property is what we have learned about in just this past week is to pave the way for a proposed location for a new high school and rec complex and/or housing, we believe it will be one of the most catastrophic urban planning decisions in Coaldale’s history.”
Noting that she and her neighbours were not against the construction of a new high school and rec complex, she described the northwest corner of town where it was planned to go as “possibly the worst” location for it. With 90 per cent of the population living south of a very busy highway and CP Rail line, it posed a major infrastructure barrier for the proposed facility, and accused the town of ignoring public consultation and professional planning advice from the Integrated Development Strategy (IDS), which came from a $550,000 provincial grant, which preached a smart-growth philosophy, or locating neighbours, school and recreation facilities around each other to best utilize transportation infrastructure.
While the town may already own the land the proposed high school will go, Allen said that should not be the “deciding factor” in where to locate it.
“The discussions during the 2012 Integrated Development Strategy meetings, included Coaldale councilors, also recommended and favoured by public input, the entire quarter section of the northwest Coaldale (corner) to be utilize not for housing and school development, but for instead present stormwater capacity with room for expansion, ecotourism habitat, a wetland of provincial significance and a relocated campground.”
Additionally, Liz also criticized the town’s communication over the matter. Although the town had sent out letters the previous week to adjacent residents and advertised the public hearings in the Nov. 27 and Dec. 4 editions of the Sunny South News, she said many didn’t hear about the possibility of a school going up across from them until that morning, and accused the town of not seeking public input over locating a high school/rec center there.
“Unfortunately, many people in Coaldale feel town council and administration has lost its direction. Increasingly it appears the input of residents, key stakeholders and professional planners is being ignored in favour of land use planning and expedient land deals driven by administration.”
Colin Weir, Coaldale resident and Birds of Prey director, also spoke in regards to both bylaws. Noting that he had participated in the IDS process, he had been “dead-set” against annexation and development of northwest corner, and while some of his motives may be “somewhat selfish” due to the Birds of Prey facility and the wetlands, he also saw a lot of problems in developing north of the “barrier” of Highway 3.
“I have made several presentations to town council about this over the past 10 years, so this isn’t anything really, really new. I’m in agreement with a lot of the comments that Liz Allen mentioned earlier about not developing in northwest Coaldale for residential purposes; I realize there might be some commercial needs of course,” said Weir. “When we went through the IDS process, and the IDS planning group came up with, even though these are not spelled out in writing, they did come up during discussions during the IDS meetings, with the engineers, stormwater engineers and economic planners, and they felt adding that adding more housing and things like schools on the north side of Coaldale would be very disadvantageous to the community economically and socially as well.”
Citing issues such as student safety, bussing, transportation infrastructure, traffic light configurations, pedestrian safety, possible need for an overpass and traffic bottlenecks, and further complicating that with an increasing presence of train cars going by, Weir said that it would lead to a “significant safety issue”.
Weir noted that in the past there have been cases of town council not following professional planning advice, which had led to problems today, such as in the Parkside area — where houses were crammed together on too small of a lot — and the 20 Street and 20 Avenue intersection — where buildings have encroached on corners. However, due to pressure from landowners, those previous councils had relented, and now the town has to deal with those arising issues today.
“Sometimes our planning is just a little short-sighted, and as a result, we’re left with very long term plans, problems for our children and grandchildren in the future.”
As the Birds of Prey Centre has had a tremendous positive impact on the town, such as in the form of tourism and funding for stormwater projects for the town, Weir says they feel “left out” of the planning process, noting that once they supplied a letter of support to the town for the Malloy Drain project, they were “cut off” from the communication and input into that project. Given that they were assured that the town would be following the IDS recommendations for the northwest area — which included wetlands, stormwater ponds and no housing — as well as discussion over the possibility of relocating the town’s campground to that area — “you can imagine my disappointment” that the town now seems to be going in the opposite direction for that area.
Coun. Bill Chapman said that the IDS meetings that he attended had very “logical planning ideas” for the town. Acknowledging that there had been issues in the past that Weir had mentioned, but “the plan today is what is being proposed”.
The town has developed a good relationship with Lethbridge County — which helped tremendously with the annexation process — and Palliser Regional School Division, who has made Coaldale their number one priority in all of their development plans for schooling.
“They’ve chosen a new high school for the town of Coaldale for a number of reasons, and particularly for growth reasons,” said Chapman. “My quandary would have been, looking at the IDS strategy that Alvin Fritz helped put together, it would have been logical for growth to happen, for residential growth and subsequential growth to be south of the highway, industrial, commercial and other recreational growth go on the north side. But, Palliser Schools has chosen a location, and they’ve really studied those locations very carefully. So this is my quandary, that they’ve chosen a location that seems to be logical for a number of reasons, and so I’m on the progress side of things, and this annexation is part of that growth, but also part of what Coaldale is all about; a great place to live, work and play and study.”
When council was asked if they could question Palliser’s decision to locate the school there, Coaldale Mayor Kim Craig said that Palliser’s decision is to have a new high school in Coaldale and their preferred sight is in northwest Coaldale. As it is a shovel-ready site that is serviceable and isn’t in the hands of a developer, it is an attractive site. Craig stated that the public hearing was for rezoning the land, and not for building the actual school.
Coaldale resident Marine Harrison asked that if they rezone the land as proposed, if it could be used for things such as connecting to the Birds of Prey Centre and other uses Weir had mentioned. Croil said the short answer was no, if they were only talking about zoning. The area the Birds of Prey Centre leases from the town and other areas adjacent to it are zoned as I/R district.
The first public hearing, for bylaw #749-P-11-18, closed. The second public hearing, for #750-P-11-18 to redesignate lands on the east half of the quarter section as I/R district was then opened.
Asking for clarification, coun. Jacen Abrey asked if this 80 acres was part of the wetland project that is going on right now, and the previous bylaw dealt with just rezoning the other 70 acres being rezoned as annexed town land, and is not saying the new school will go there. Croil confirmed that both were correct.
Alvin Fritz, an architect who dealt with the IDS when it was created and is currently working with landowners of newly annexed land south of the highway, spoke on the bylaw. He said he was optimistic about Coaldale’s growth, and his current project involves a variety of housing, energy nodes, and some commercial areas. At an open house on the project back in November, he said Dexter Durfey, the secretary-treasurer for Palliser Regional School Division, attended, and told his team “that no matter how quickly we were to assign school sites, the growth in Coaldale will outstrip the ability to provide schools” in the town. Despite this enthusiasm for growth, Fritz also said that the clients he worked with also consider the Birds of Prey Centre is a “critical entity” in developing Coaldale, and a “very attractive and desirable” part of the town.
“I’m reminded of the years when I used to drive through Drumheller, and see some very, you know, poorly crafted dinosaurs and so forth, and one day we got the (Royal Tyrrell Museum), and everything just changed,” said Fritz. “And our belief is that Birds of Prey will be all of that and more, a major impetus for driving development, and to see the needs of Birds of Prey addressed to the greatest extent will be part of heart of the people that I’m working with.”
Coaldale resident Douglas Bergen said although he was “elated” to hear about a new high school and recreation centre coming to Coaldale, he also felt the location was extremely poor. Having lived north of the highway in Coaldale in the 80s and 90s, Bergen said during that time there was “regular conversation” over safety concerns on crossing the railroad tracks.
“There was much dialogue —I attended several meetings — with regard to an overpass, and a pedestrian overpass, and what that might look like for safe passage of school children. It never happened, and in my opinion that is a good thing, because I find them very unsightly and seldom used,” said Bergen. “I believe that a level crossing, that level crossings are the most viable form of crossing the tracks on the highway long term. With reduced speeds on Highway 3 over the years, the current intersection has become much safer.”
Although he has real estate interest on the north side of Coaldale, he believes that the school’s location would be “compromised” there, as the two intersections that serve the area only work well for vehicular traffic, and not pedestrian traffic. Bergen said that a third level crossing should be included in the proposal for the school site, and urged council to include a controlled level crossing at the Land-o-Lakes intersection on Highway 3.
When asked why the public wasn’t included in the discussion to build a new high school, Croil said that Palliser had started considering building a new school over a year ago, with them holding a meeting on it at Kate Andrews in July 2017, which was advertised and opened to the public, where they indicated a preference north of the Highway and rail tracks. A number of meetings were held afterwards, which Croil said “were quick” and they still aren’t sure if the school will be funded.
“Beyond that, the matters before council and the gallery today are not related to the school; they are related to rezoning of the properties,” said Croil.
Craig said that one concern Palliser had with choosing a site for the school was that they didn’t want a “cluster” of them on the south side of Coaldale.
“The preference by Palliser was not to have proximity to existing schools,” said Craig. “And the reference, the value management session that many people in the community were invited to, that was populated by professionals in the education system and province of Alberta, in regard to schooling and there was a great deal of dialogue on the types of schools, the options and a number of different factors.”
Abrey said that Palliser also wants to change the curriculum for the new high school to entice students to attend high school in Coaldale rather then going to Lethbridge. That curriculum would include things such as environmental and agriculture programs, that would require things such as a plot of barley for the students to study. As such, they can’t have it in the middle of town, because otherwise they won’t have access to these things.
When asked why then the high school couldn’t be located in newly annexed areas south of the town then, Craig said they also have to consider Palliser’s timelines, and the town didn’t have full servicing of water and sewer in those areas, while the northwest site was already serviced.
When another person asked why not south of the town’s quads and St. Joseph School then, Craig said “that’s assuming that people in the audience know the servicing capacity of our existing water and sewer lines, which I do not believe anybody within the gallery has that expertise to make that judgment” that there would be a suitable location for the school, although it was a “point noted though”.
Coun. Briane Simpson asked that, whether a school is built there or not, with the wetlands siting on the land, the I/R land district was the only zoning the town had that could apply to the land, to which Croil said was correct.
After the public hearing closed and a short break, council returned to the bylaws. When considering bylaw #749-P-11-18 to redesignate the west part of the land under the UR land district, Chapman asked if there was a submission from Palliser over the bylaw. Croil said there wasn’t, and there was no need to as the rezonings are not necessarily related to the land uses “that will be allowable” but are “not related to this process”.
Chapman then proposed that council table the bylaw, pending more information. The motion was defeated in a 6-1 split, with Chapman being the sole vote for it.
Coun. Roger Hohm said while he understood what they heard during the public hearing, this was just to rezone a piece of land “to allow us to move forward with something in the future”, and they move forward with second reading. Council passed second and the third and final reading of the bylaw in a 6-1 split, with Chapman being the sole vote against.
Council unanimously passed second and third and final reading of #750-P-11-18, to designate the east part of the land in question under the I/R land district.