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Coming Up: March 12 Council Meeting

Council’s next meeting is March 12. The topics before Council that are most likely to interest people: urban hens and proposed changes to the Large Scale Tourism Event funding. Following is everything we will be chatting about. As always, any errors and opinions belong to me and to me alone.

I also have an open mind about everything up for discussion, so I would love to hear your thoughts.


Rezoning in Westgate

Rezoning has been proposed for a property of 2.4 ha in the Westgate neighbourhood.

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This property is currently zoned for High Density Residential and Combined Density Residential. Rezoning to General Residential would allow for the development of single and semi-detached dwellings.

The current plan for this neighbourhood calls for approximately 80% of the units to be high or medium density. Under the proposed changes, that percentage would be reduced to 70%.

I currently support this rezoning. With its proximity to the hospital, this is an area we need to see developed. That means allowing developers to meet what they see as the market demand. I also want to see a variety of housing stock available in this neighbourhood- I place a high value on diversity in our neighbourhoods

However: with its proximity to the hospital, GPRC, and many commercial developments, high and medium density housing is needed in this area. At this time, I do not know what percentage of low density versus other densities is desirable. But as Council gets more requests to rezone properties in and around Westgate, we need to ensure that there will be options for those unable or not wanting to live in low density units.


Housekeeping Resolution for Vision West Business Park

The Vision West Business Park is directly south east across the highway from the airport. In May, Council adopted a new outline plan for the area but did not rescind the old one. As a housekeeping matter, it has been recommended for us to rescind the old plan. I currently support this.


Intermunicipal Development Plan

The Intermunicipal Development Plan (IDP) is a shared City-County agreement which outlines how land that effects both municipalities will be developed. The IDP has not been updated since annexation, so it is in need of technical amendments. None of what is proposed will change the intent of this plan.

I am currently in support of these amendments.

To pass, these amendments need to be approved by both City and County Councils. They will be given first readings independently (this is what we are doing Monday). Then our Councils will hold a joint public hearing later in March. If both Councils are agreeable, they will independently give these amendments 2nd and 3rd reading later.


Large Scale Tourism Event Funding

Last year, Council setup a $200,000 Large Scale Tourism Events funding program. This is meant to support unique events which may result in significant economic or tourism benefit to the City. It is generally meant to support ticketed multi-day events with an attendance of over 2000 people per day. Events are expected to have a draw of 35% of attendees from 40 km or further from Grande Prairie.

After its first year, some needed changes to this program became apparent. We will be discussing these on Monday. The proposed changes I see as most important:

  • A requirement to return unspent funds to the City
  • Requiring applicants to provide a marketing plan which includes how their event will be promoted outside of our region
  • Preference for new or expanded events- funding will be targeted to events which have been around for 5 or less years or which show how this grant will help them grow
  • Adding submission deadlines for applications (April 1 and September 1)
  • Requiring events to provide evidence of significant expected economic benefit
  • Not allowing any request to exceed 50% of the annual program budget

I do support this fund. Having people come to town for an event directly benefits many local businesses. More importantly, I am a firm believer in our region's need to grow our profile. For Grande Prairie's future economic prosperity, we need to be seen as an attractive place to visit, move to, or invest in. Having quality events that market themselves outside of our region and invite people to visit is an important part of our promotions.

At the same time, I want to make sure money given through this grant is invested well. These changes will help do that. I am currently in support of the proposed amendments.

That being said, I'd love to hear from you. Do you agree that we should invest in tourism drawing events? If so, how much should we invest into them? Whether you support this grant investment or not, can you think of additional steps that could be taken to insure a better return on it?


Smith Subdivision Land for Grande Spirit Foundation

The City owns 4.8 hectares of undeveloped land in the Smith subdivision- this property is west and south of the soccer fields. It was bought with the intention of having land available for the Grande Spirit Foundation to build seniors' housing on and for the City to explore building social or affordable housing projects.

The Grande Spirit Foundation has asked for 5 acres of this land. Their current vision is to build 4 stories high with 90-120 residential units. They would also like to see commercial space for complementary services (medical facilities, hair care, etc...) on the bottom floor.

I do think there are better potential locations for seniors' housing. However, at the committee level the Grande Spirit Foundation assured us that this location will work for its needs. It also emphasized an immediate need for designated land so that it can start pursuing funding. If a better location is identified, we would likely be able to move this project without jeopardizing any funding that is secured. With that in mind, I am supportive of re-allocating this land. At the same time, I want us to have our heads up looking for potentially better locations.

In the future we will need to decide what to do with the rest of this land. Currently I am very opposed to building affordable or social housing units in this neighbourhood. These are projects we need to make sure get pursued, but this is not an appropriate location for them.


Subdivision Approval Extension

Council will vote on a request to extend the time needed to get final endorsement on a subdivision. The property in question is just west of 100 st and a few blocks south of 84 ave. This is a standard request when a piece of land’s development has been stalled due to market conditions. Since no stakeholders have raised objections, I intend to vote “yes” to this request.
 


Urban Hens

Hens are back before Council. The Infrastructure and Protective Services Committee has recommended that we approve a pilot program. This would allow up to 10 households to get hens for a year, after which the allowance of hens would be revisited.

The following restrictions would apply to anyone wanting hens:

  • No roosters and a maximum of 4 hens per household
  • Before a permit is issued, adjoining landowners will be contacted and given input
  • Coops have to be in backyards which are completely fenced and secured. Backyards would also need to be spacious enough to ensure appropriate distance from all houses.
  • Hens must remain in their coop or an enclosed run within the fenced yard.
  • Hens need to be banded for identification
  • No euthanasia or slaughtering will be permitted on site
  • Permit holders must complete an accepted urban hen keeping course
  • All hens must be registered with the province

I was asked about this topic many times through my campaign, and my opinion has not changed yet:

I've been personally responsible for large chicken coops, and do not want to live anywhere near one ever again. That being said, I do not think 4 hens that are responsibly kept will be a nuisance to neighbours. I've visited urban hen coops and did not see a problem with them. I've also looked for and asked for evidence of other municipalities allowing urban hens and finding significant problems, but have not been given examples yet.

I am also of the strong belief that animals don't tend to cause problems. Non-dedicated owners of animals are the problem. The proposed process to attain urban hens is arduous- it will cost some money and significant time. This will insure only dedicated hen keepers are approved, which will greatly minimize any risk of problems.

I believe very strongly that people should have freedom to do what they want on their property as long as they don't cause unreasonable disruption to their neighbours. Since I do not think hens will disrupt the neighbours, I am supportive of people being allowed to keep them. That being said, I am also always prepared for the fact that my current assessment of a situation might be wrong. Therefore, I am also supportive of the recommendation to have a defined pilot program then re-evaluate.

At the same time, I want to make sure a pilot program returns useful information. I don't know if 10 households is enough. Part of me wants to create more experiments in the community so that we are more likely to learn about potential problems throughout the pilot.

I currently intend to vote "yes" to approving this pilot program. I am considering moving an amendment to increase it from 10 one year permits to 15 of 20 (Airdrie and St Albert recently approved pilot programs with 20 permits). I would love to hear your thoughts about the appropriate number. 

I know some people will be disappointed in my take on this. I have an open mind and would love to hear your thoughts. The most likely thing to change my mind: actual examples of municipalities which have allowed for urban hens and then run into significant problems. Additionally, I will be attending an education course this weekend to learn more prior to our vote.

I have also had some people ask me "what farm animals will you allow next!?" My current intention is to compare future animals to cats and dogs. We already allow cats and dogs, and I haven't heard anyone seriously suggest we ban them despite the significant problems they sometimes cause for neighbours. If I have the sense that an animal will be less disruptive than a cat and dog, I am open to considering it being allowed. If I have reason to believe that it will be just as disruptive or more disruptive than cats and dogs, then I am strongly opposed to allowing a new type of animal to be kept in City limits.


Francophone Initiatives

Grande Prairie has a Francophone history- hence the first "e" in our name. We also currently have a strong Francophone community. Highlighting our history and drawing out our cultural distinctives is an important part of making Grande Prairie an attractive place to live and invest in. For these reasons, two Francophone initiatives have been proposed.

It has been recommended that Council approve hosting the 2018 mid-term meeting of the Francophone and Francophile Cities Network with a budget of up to $44,000. This would likely see 100 attendees.

To secure the event, the City needs to assume responsibility for the full budget. However, it would not actually pay the full $44,000. It is expected that ticket revenue would generate $10,000. There are also grant opportunities and several organisations have expressed interest in partnering and recruiting sponsors. The last City to host a mid-term meeting ended up spending $7000 USD.

I currently support hosting this event. I am eager for opportunities to highlight ourselves outside of our region and to encourage our local cultural groups.

It has also been recommended that the City join the Alberta Bilingual Municipalities Association (ABMA). The goal of this organisation is to maximize the economic prosperity of bilingual municipalities. ABMA primarily does this through tourism development, increasing the recruitment and employability of bilingual francophones, attracting francophone investors, and encouraging sustainable development and green energy projects.

There is no cost to join ABMA. However, sending our representatives (a member of Council and a member of City staff) to take part in biannual meetings is estimated to cost $2200 per year.

The financial cost of this membership is small. However, the cost in terms of Council and staff time is more significant. At the same time, I think there can be great benefit to working with other municipalities. This is worth trying out.

I currently support us joining ABMA. However, I am considering moving an amendment to this motion to have Council revisit this partnership in 2020 to make sure we only continue with ABMA if it is proving an effective use of our resources.


That is what we have on our agenda for Monday. As always, I welcome any comments or questions you might have.

Thanks for reading;

-Dylan