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Coming Up: September 9

Council meets on Monday. The agenda includes:

  • A rezoning request for Trader Ridge

  • Bylaw and Policy Review Committee

  • Election Signs

Additionally, there will be a meeting on Tuesday to discuss Community Group Funding.

Following is more information and my take on agenda items.

As always, any mistakes or opinions belong to me and me alone, not to Council or City staff.

While I express my current views below, I always go into meetings ready to listen and with an open mind. I learn new information and participate in debate. This always informs and sometimes changes how I vote on issues.

If you would like to watch the meeting or read any of its supporting material for yourself, you can do so by clicking here. The City will post the highlights of Council’s decisions here.

Trader Ridge Rezoning Request

Council has been asked to rezone land in the Trader Ridge development from Arterial Commercial and General Commercial to Urban Reserve. The purpose of this rezoning is to allow the owner to farm the subject properties.


Summary of Last Council Meeting

At the last meeting, Council gave first consideration to a bylaw to approve this re-zoning.

There were several reasons given for this rezoning. The most compelling to me: farming these properties would help control prohibited weeds. However, most of the discussion focused around taxes.

This land has seen significant infrastructure investments. The developer has constructed or paid levies to the City to construct most of the roads, water, storm ponds, and other necessary services to make this land ready for commercial construction. Additionally, the City has used $467,000 of its tax revenues to make infrastructure upgrades triggered by this development.

Since this land was developed, the market has taken a downturn. The land is selling slower than anticipated. At the same time, the impact of this infrastructure servicing has been to increase the value, and therefore the tax bills, of these properties. These parcels paid $336,952 in taxes 2019. This high tax bill is creating a hardship as the developer is forced to sit on unused land.

If these parcels become farm land, their tax bill will be reduced by approximately $300,000. Once they are ready to sell, the lands will be re-zoned back to commercial and begin paying commercial rates again.

During its debate, Council amended the proposed bylaw to NOT include the center parcels. Some Councillors stated that it makes sense to allow farming to happen next to current agricultural activity, but not on parcels fully surrounded by urban roads.

Most of Council supported the bylaw as amended. It was stated by some in support that this developer has done something very beneficial to the City: create land that is ready for quick development. By doing so, this developer has expanded the City’s tax base well beyond the ~$300,000 these parcels pay. The developer has also ensured there is land available to quickly fill future market demands as our economy expands. There is a fear that high tax bills attached to this type of land will discourage similar investment in the future.

Council passed first and second readings of the bylaw as amended. However, it voted to not have third reading until this upcoming meeting. On Monday, we will be having a final vote on whether or not to allow the re-zoning of the outside parcels of land.

My Take

I’m currently opposed to approving this re-zoning.

I’m sympathetic to the viewpoint of those who support it. This development has been very beneficial to our City. It’s allowed the local economy to grow and local businesses to thrive. It’s fully serviced but vacant land is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs looking to create or expand a business. And Trader Ridge has generated and will continue to generate very significant taxes for the City.

Developments like this are very valuable. It is good for our community when developers invest in infrastructure to create new commercial lots. I’m very open to the idea of Council creating ways for them to not see significant tax increases between the time they service land and the time they sell or build on it. However: this is not the way to do it.

Section 364(2) of Municipal Government Act (MGA) allows Councils to incentivize development by setting circumstances under which a property can qualify for full or partial tax exemptions. If Council wishes to use this tool to make putting infrastructure on vacant land more feasible: I’m incredibly open to that conversation. However, I do not support creating a tax break by re-zoning land.

Rezoning land to reduce taxes doesn’t violate the letter of the MGA, but it sure seems to go against the spirit of it. The MGA is very clear on exactly how the taxes of individual properties should be determined. I’m not comfortable with skirting those rules.

I also fear that this could lead to inequitable decisions in the future. If Council approves this re-zoning, I’m confident we will receive similar requests from other land owners. However, we have no clear policy to work from when those requests are considered. This could lead to inconsistent decisions made in the future. This goes against one of the fundamental objectives of our property tax system: that it should be fair to all property owners.

When Council considers rezoning land, it should do so from a perspective of doing good land use planning, not from the perspective of tax planning. That’s the lens I am approaching this bylaw from. And, from a land use perspective, I don’t think this is a good change for the following reasons:

  • This land is fully serviced with a storm pond, water, sewer, streetlights, paved roads, sidewalks, and other infrastructure. The City paid for some of this infrastructure using tax dollars, and it needs to maintain this infrastructure using more tax dollars. This investment in infrastructure will be largely wasted if it is just serving agricultural use.

  • This is ready-to-build commercial land right in a part of our region that is seeing significant growth. Farming doesn’t seem like a good use of it.

  • Rezoning this land goes against our own bylaws governing land use. Our Municipal Development Plan and Trader Ridge Outline Plan both designate this property as Commercial. And our Land Use Bylaw says that Urban Reserve zoning is to protect land from premature subdivision and development, which does not apply in this case.

I’ll likely be voting against this bylaw.

Bylaw and Policy Review Committee

Council will be discussing Terms of Reference for a new committee whose mandate will be to review “existing City bylaws, policies, procedures and processes in order to enhance the City of Grande Prairie as a business friendly community.” This committee would have three Council members appointed with the Mayor receiving an ex officio spot on it.

I support having a Review Committee. Periodic revision of our policies and bylaws is an important function of Council. However, I’m considering moving an amendment to the Terms of Reference.

Enhancing Grande Prairie as a business friendly community is certainly important. Part of this committee’s mandate should be to look for ways to reduce red tape. However, that shouldn’t be all that it is considered by the committee. I’d be more comfortable if its mandate was something like “enhance City processes, make the community better for residents, and improve Grande Prairie’s ability to be business friendly.”

Election Signs

In my opinion, there is a problem with our bylaw governing election signs. It states that signs can only be put on City property “as designated by Council.” But Council hasn’t designated any sign locations. Instead, it has created rules around where signs cannot go. These rules are often inconsistently applied, and figuring them out takes a lot of work from our staff.

I’ve written more about issues surrounding our election sign rules here.

On Monday, I’ll be presenting this Notice of Motion. Our Procedure Bylaw does not allow a Notice of Motion to receive discussion and voting on the night it is made: it will be debated at our next Council meeting on September 23.

If my Notice of Motion is successful, the main action it lays out is to direct administration to create a list of locations where campaign signs will be allowed in future elections. These locations would be discussed, possibly changed, and approved by Council at a future meeting.

Community Group Funding

On Tuesday, Council will be having a special Committee of the Whole meeting to discuss community group funding.

This has been a challenging issue.

Previously, community groups were funded through a variety of budget lines. Some groups had their funding authorized by administration, some by Council. There was no coordinated approach and a lack of transparency when it came to the City giving funds to groups in the community.

Council wants to change that. Currently, we are working on a new process to decide on community group funding requests. There is a need to have a more strategic and consistent approach. To enable this, a new application and decision making process should be in place for the 2021 budget. However, in the meantime, we still need to decide on what 2020 funding will look like.

In 2019, Council authorized $4,180,695 in community group funding. In July, Council decided to maintain that same total amount in 2020. Our conversation on Tuesday will revolve around deciding how to allocate that money to individual groups.

The recommendation before Council is to give most groups the same funding in 2020 as they received in 2019, with one exception. Now that the Disabled Transportation Society’s (DTS) operations are being undertaken by the City, it is recommended that the $615,750 previously given to DTS be re-allocated to the City transit department.

I’m inclined to support the recommendation to maintain current funding levels. The applications submitted last year were based on a two year funding cycle. Council had a very fulsome debate on how to allocate funding, and I’m not convinced that needs in our community have shifted significantly since that debate. I’m inclined to maintain funding at current levels.

That being said, if my colleagues have ideas about how funding should be re-allocated: I’m very open to considering any motions to change which they might make.

You can see last year’s funding allocations and the requests for 2020 funding which groups made by clicking here. You can also see how much funding groups receive when some types of Gift in Kind contributions are taken into account by clicking here.

That’s what is on the Council agenda. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

You can comment below. Or, you can contact me at or 780-402-4166. I'm happy to talk online or over the phone. I'm also always willing to setup a time to meet for coffee.

We also always have great conversation in the GP Round Table group on Facebook.

After Council meeting, you will be able to find highlights posted by the City here.

Thanks for reading!