IDP past its best-before date

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All has gone quiet on the intermunicipal front, but it’s possible the ceasefire won’t last.

After several years of quietly ho-hum relations between St. Albert and Sturgeon County, it appears both municipalities are at a crossroads about the future of the joint intermunicipal development plan (IDP).

Intermunicipal planning might not be as sexy as Tiger Woods’ latest fall from grace, however St. Albert and Sturgeon County’s ability to get along affects residents in both communities.

Taxpayers in St. Albert stand to gain if the city is able to create a new light industrial park in the annexed lands. It’s the type of development the city desperately wants to help rebalance the property tax load and take some pressure off homeowners. But it can’t happen without the support of Sturgeon County because the city’s targeted land — a ‘study area’ west of North Ridge — is in the IDP and there are rules about the type of development allowed near both municipalities.

For instance, building a regional mega mall just outside St. Albert’s borders, much like what happened with Cross Iron Mills north of Calgary, would not fly. City council would not want to see its residents spend their money outside the community at a development that provides no tax benefit to St. Albert.

That’s why the proposed changes to the IDP are a big deal. The proposal, still under review, could free all 1,337 hectares St. Albert annexed two years ago from the IDP, along with two acreage subdivisions.

That level playing field would either be leaving the IDP intact, or scrapping it entirely. But with the advent of the Capital Region Board, which gives St. Albert a say in most development on its boundaries, it’s becoming clear the IDP is past its best-before date.

Intermunicipal planning sounds great in principle. By aligning plans you avoid leapfrog development and plot out orderly annexations free of hostility. Plus it just sounds like a decent, neighbourly thing to do.

In reality, the IDP hasn’t exactly kept the peace. The last annexation was anything but free of hostility largely because the IDP did not spell out how to share property tax revenue. St. Albert and Sturgeon have been to court more than once over fringe development. IDP discussions were kept private last week, one would assume to avoid potential disagreements from airing in public.

It’s understandable why St. Albert would want to continue with the IDP, even in a watered-down form. The changes would give St. Albert a say on development near its boundaries but wouldn’t hold the city to the same restrictions in the annexed lands.

Sturgeon in contrast, has far less to gain. It would obtain two relatively small subdivisions while the rest of the IDP lands would remain a de facto land bank for future annexations. The outcry from rural landowners should not then come as a surprise, and the uproar at upcoming public hearings this spring could leave county councillors little choice but to venture down a different path. Some might call it an escape clause, but at least they tried to do the neighbourly thing.

Bryan Alary is an editor at the Gazette.

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