August 24th, 2019

Council approves first phase of new community

By COLLIN GALLANT on July 3, 2019.

NEWS PHOTO EMMA BENNETT
Potential changes to land planning documents for an area of southeast Medicine Hat were discussed Tuesday, July 2, 2019 at city council. A developer is proposing to build a new community on land once reserved for a separate land development.

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

A plan for a new premium community in Medicine Hat’s deep southwest will be written into the area’s land development strategy after council voted 8-1 in favour of the initial plans of the Coulee Ridge community.

Work is set to commence on an initial 40-lot-phase of the subdivision, unveiled to the public this winter, on land once set aside for a major new community called Cimarron. The new project would comprise larger, estates-style lots, but only on 80 acres of a remote portion of the land that sits about one mile north of S. Boundary Road.

That setup led to questions of the costs to bring utility service to the community and eventually municipal services such as trash collection and fire services.

However, with city staff and the developer stating “no significant” costs are expected, the majority of council cited potential economic boost and ability of the private sector to bring new land to market.

“Our municipal plan can go forward with a densification plan and this is another (suburb),” said Coun. Darren Hirsch. “The real strategy is to make progress on all tracts of land … a two-pronged approach makes absolute sense.”

New tax revenue, wrestling away higher-end new houses from Cypress County and Redcliff, and boosting the home-building sector were also cited by council members.

Coun. Kris Samraj registered the lone vote against the changes, which now allow developers to apply for permits on a first phase while a functional servicing report from the city’s municipal and utility departments are done.

“I feel that out-of-step developments have a higher bar and I’m not sure this satisfied that,” said Samraj following the meeting.

During the hearing, he questioned the timetable of bringing more development to the general area, which would lower the costs to the city for extending services.

“The economic development from Coulee Ridge is significant and sustainable,” said Don Sandford, of Enclave Ventures, one of the development partners.

He said landscaping would be low to no-cost to the city’s parks department, which would eventually take over care for the community. Utility requirements would be scaled up as building takes place on adjacent phases, rather than by “overbuilt” upfront, he added.

The changes only involved the initial 40-lot phase, though a further 200 lots to the south have been proposed. That would include a recreational lake that was a focus of questioning, though not technically part of the proposal before council.

Sandford said steps were being taken to design a low-impact pond, but that takes time and extra costs that his firm is willing to pay.

“It’s not going to be another Echo Dale that we’re going to have to staff with lifeguards,” said Mayor Ted Clugston, who felt other services would go in step, but not be costly.

City planning superintendent Erin Onofreychuk told council during a presentation that the area is a priority greenfield development area, and the rest of the Coulee Ridge proposal would require changes and municipal oversight.

Chief administrative officer Bob Nicolay said that while it would be a challenge to service, the development would meet city standards.

When development plans for the area were registered in 2009 by the now defunct developer, Medican, it was envisioned that the buildout would work east to west, from land near Southridge Drive along S. Boundary Road. It also included a utility plan to hook up 16,000 homes along the way with staging but requiring major pieces to be in place early on.

Some facets will now only serve the 40 initial homes, but be upgraded over time, said Sandford.

Speaking in favour of the changes were the Canadian Homebuilders. Representative Garry Ruff said there is demand for what the development is offering.

“There are a lot of people waiting a long time to get a lot that backs onto a coulee or golf course,” he said.

Gerald Weiss, the owner of Hatfield Dairy, which owns land south of Vista that was part of the original Cimarron plan, said he was concerned about how the change would affect other land sales in the area.

Conn. Robert Dumanowski said he supports the idea of the community, but is cautious and doesn’t want any outsized costs related to the community “born by the (existing) taxpayer or ratepayer.”

“It’s hard to say two things, but I’ll have to take staff’s word that there are no significant concerns (with costs),” he concluded.

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