Frequently Asked Questions and “Myth Busters”
refuted the myth that in 2007, Bremner was council’s unanimous choice over Colchester for possible urban expansion.
That council became deeply and equally divided even though they had earlier unanimously approved a process framework based on the urban growth sustainability principles developed by the University of British Columbia, the first principle being the preservation of prime agricultural land. The United Nations Brundtland commission definition of sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
In 2007, the eight member county council was facing an election and a deadline imposed by the Alberta Government to pass a new Municipal Development Plan (MDP). Four on council agreed with the county administration backed up by an extensive 2006 Stantec study that recommended urban growth occur in Colchester for sustainability, environmental and fiscal reasons. The other four on council lined up behind developers, one of whom at a February 7, 2007 public input council meeting expressed their preference for Bremner because there were fewer land owners, thus making for easier land purchase negotiations and the land was flat and open so “all we have to do is push off the dirt and start building houses”. A tie vote at the time would have caused a failure to pass a new MDP.
Consequently, the then mayor proposed a compromise that both areas be identified in the MDP for urban development. Bremner was labeled as “Urban Reserve Area” and Colchester as “Urban-Rural Transition Area”. Administration was then directed to start a simultaneous planning process on both areas including public consultations. The public, the market-place and the next council could determine exactly if, where and how future urban growth would proceed. This compromise was what council unanimously approved. It allowed the county to submit a new MDP to the province on time, and deferred the final decision on urban growth to the future elected councils. It provided a polarized and paralyzed council… a way out! The 2008 “great recession” then delayed the prescribed planning process.
The “Imagine Bremner” Growth Management Strategy has been falsely assumed in some quarters as meaning the decision to move forward with urban expansion has been made, and that development is to occur in Bremner instead of North Colchester. The fact is that the “Imagine Bremner” study is only the first of two comparative growth management strategies to be undertaken. This has been clarified both by the administration and the current mayor.
). Supported by low interest rates, growing world food demand and resulting strong commodity prices in the first half of the year, the average value of Canadian farmland increased 22.1% in 2013, according to Farm Credit Canada’s (FCC) annual Farmland Values Report. “The positive overall health of agriculture in reflected in recent land value trends,” says Michael Hoffort, FCC Chief Risk Officer. (https://www.fcc-fac.ca/fcc/about-fcc/corporate-profile/reports/farmland-values/farmland-values-report-2013.pdf)
The world is faced with having to double food production in the next 35-40 years. Up to now, the world has increased agricultural output by cutting down rainforest, pouring on more fertilizer, and genetically modifying seeds. All of these methods are now showing disturbing downsides and cannot be relied upon to continue to increase food production.
The challenge now is to produce more using the same land base. The first obvious solution is to stop eroding the existing prime soil land base with urban development. Prime Bremner farmland for many crops can be reasonably expected to produce twice the yield using half the fertilizer and are of markedly higher quality than crops that can be produced on sub-prime Colchester farmland.
Much of Alberta’s agricultural land is #3 soil or less. This quality of land as an example, may produce 40 – 60 bushels to the acre of cattle feed quality barley in an average year. Number 1 soil can be expected to yield 80 – 120 bushels to the acre of malting quality barley with half or less the fertilizer input. Looked at another way, converting 10,000 acres (16 square miles) of prime Bremner farmland to urban use is equivalent to destroying perhaps 20,000 acres (32 square miles) of subprime farmland. No…. farmland soils are NOT all the same!
The lack of a master plan for urban development within Strathona County has resulted in piece meal development, fraught with an unforeseen myriad of problems as demonstrated by the previous growth decisions.
County planners have already been considering ways to “densify” the older acreage areas to the south and east of Sherwood Park, by allowing existing acreages to be subdivided into smaller sized lots. This would mean a new Colchester area, when built out, would create in conjunction with existing Sherwood Park, a single continuous non-competing community.
This area is prime Strathcona farmland, and a viable way to protect it will be to declare all or most of the #1 & #2 soil areas in the north of the county as being a special agricultural reserve, and promote out-of-the-box thinking to increase agricultural production beyond just cereal grains in this entire area. This would makes the area politically unattractive for urban development and annexation by Fort Saskatchewan. Instead, it could become a world class example for agricultural ingenuity and diversification and even more important economic driver for Strathcona County. This concept should be immediately become part of the long overdue modern Agricultural Master Plan currently under development.
It would be irresponsible for the current council to approve urban expansion on prime county agricultural land prior to the approval of this new Agricultural Master Plan.
Colchester has similar terrain as exists in the south-east corner of Sherwood Park. Both are on the outer fringe of the Cooking Lake Moraine. The topography is “Knob & Kettle”, with small “Knob” hills and “Kettle” holes surrounding areas of flatter glacial plains. The Mill Creek and Fulton creek systems, the significant sloughs and Gray Lake will be protected as Environmental Reserve. Colchester, as confirmed by the 2003 Stantec study, is not significant habitat land nor a wildlife corridor as is the case with the heart of the moraine many miles farther to the east surrounding Cooking Lake and Hastings Lake.
The county planners in 2006 cited this topography as having several desirable advantages for urban design. Existing “Kettles” can become natural storm water basins without having to artificially create them, similar to Ball Lake in Nottingham. (It should be noted that this very desirable Sherwood Park community was successfully built on what was essentially low lying land.)
“Knobs” and hills create opportunities to add value to neighborhoods with walk out basements such as in Heritage Hills and The Ridge. The two slough areas can (and should) be preserved as valuable natural wetlands and become desirable neighborhood focal points such as has happened in Foxhaven. Mature tree stands can be incorporated into trails and parks, similar to the center of Glen Allen. The Sherwood Park Natural Area, on land owned by the Province, is an existing central community park with walking and jogging trails which in part run along the historic Cooking Lake Wagon Trail.
Colchester topography lends itself to the creation of a unique and desirable community. Bremner, with wide open flat prime farmland, will become more urban sprawl. Many developers have grown rich on creating urban sprawl on open farmland and for that reason they have lobbied successive County councils against the findings of the tax payer funded 2001 Urban Systems and 2003 Stantec studies, as well as the recommendation of the County administration, all of which found Colchester a more suitable and cost effective location for urban expansion.
From a developer cost perspective, stripping the shallow Colchester top soil (where it even exists) and performing some land-leveling, by some engineers’ estimates, may be less expensive than dealing with the deep rich black top soil that blankets Bremner. Smart developers will see the opportunity to work closely with Strathcona County to create a truly unique and desirable urban living environment within Colchester, the likes of which can never be created in Bremner.