Who is really driving development in Central Alberta?

Land use allocation bills have historically been tough sells. Central Alberta is witness to several land use issues.

The ‘lake’ districts (Gull, Sylvan, Pine) are all facing planning issues surrounding shore development. Red Deer, Gasoline Alley, Lacombe, Ponoka, and Blackfalds have met their fair share of tough issues.

On the record, I am opposed to the development of the Bower Natural Area, Timberstone, the Gull Lake RV park, and further development in Sylvan Lake. I have reviewed the ‘new’ gravel pit issue surrounding the Gabriel Construction and find the same nagging question.

Who drives land development?

The answer is remarkably obvious, yet equally frustrating. For example, the area now known as Westlake lay undeveloped for years until a Calgary based company came in, purchased the land and built it to where it is today.

The forces behind Southpointe Common, Qualico Developments are not Red Deer based, and therefore, are perfect for projects with wide local opposition.

We can examine this issue of development from a couple of viewpoints.

Firstly, investors seeking to increase their holdings will invest capital in companies with attractive growth rates. These companies are always on the lookout for land to develop communities, and help leverage investment funds into large scale projects. When profit is the motive, intrinsic value of land/area are always secondary!

Secondly, land development/community development is ‘controlled’ by City Council and planning documents/area plans. I am pleased that the developer has scaled back the Gull Lake RV proposal to 1,125 units upon concern from local citizens, but am still concerned that even 1,125 ‘lots’ may be too much for the community of Gull Lake to handle.

While the environmental study indicates it is ‘acceptable’, what is ‘acceptable’? What happened to the Sylan Lake residents who opposed the extensive development along the lake edges and communities built on prime farm land? Where are their voices?

Amidst the calls for public consultation and sparsely attended meetings (in some cases), the only voices heard are developers, urban planners, and businesses seeking a stable future.

Lost are the voices of concerned citizens who value intrinsic historical land/areas, and prime farmland used for food production. Let’s not even consider the AltaLink fiasco…

According to Alberta law, a historical/cultural examination of affected lands is supposed to be conducted prior to any new developments. Sadly, any such evidence of pre-contact civilizations are treated shamefully, discarded, and dozed away.

With all the development in Red Deer area, I am certain that no historical survey has ever been done! This must and will change!

If we consider Red Deer and ‘available’ community land, we have Michener Hill, Timberstone, Vanier Woods, and Johnstone Park. Factor in the vacancy rate in Red Deer for newly built homes (as high as 15%), and the flooded real estate market, and we have a problem.

Call it balance, call it common sense, call it long term, call it what you will. Whatever you call it, we don’t have it. We have treated the land/water resources of Central Alberta like a vending machine with no limits. Decades ago, a scholar wrote Limits To Growth and a wise social teacher encouraged us to read, and discuss the implications.

Within our lifetime, we will see the long term implications of land use gone wild. Even now, we see direct results of poor water management in the Red Deer river and tributaries. Only when we, as responsible citizens choose to make long term responsible decisions regarding resource use, will we be looking beyond the profit and tax base motive and plan effectively for the future.

Tim Lasiuta

Red Deer