By COLLIN GALLANT on March 22, 2022.
Clubs protesting the layout of a planned industrial park in the city’s northwest will be invited to sign leases of up to 20-years on their city-owned sites – or negotiate alternatives, including an eventual move to another site – after council approved major planning documents for the area on Monday.
NW Industrial was the subject of a three-hour debate and public hearing two weeks ago as members of five clubs like the Medicine Hat Speedway, Motocross, Dragstrip and Rifle and Revolver Club said the build-out would put their long-term operation in jeopardy.
Officials and consultants with the plan’s promoter, Invest MH, said that likely wouldn’t be an issue for 20 years or more.
On Monday council approved a separate resolution directing the city manager to immediately open talks on extending leases to that time frame before approving the new zoning for the entire 1,000-acre parcel.
Coun. Allison Knodel introduced the motion, calling it a “two-way street” that could be good for everyone, address club concerns and “secure the land’s original intended purpose,” for industrial development.
It was seconded by Coun. Robert Dumanowski.
“We’re saying we’ve heard you and your viability is important, but at the same time, we need to secure that (land) for economic development – that’s the challenge,” said Dumanowski, later strongly suggesting the city would be open to shorter leases and clubs might propose a jointly agreeable relocation.
City manager Merete Heggelund is now tasked with opening a direct dialogue with each club on leases or other matters.
When the issue was first debated, Coun. Shila Sharps was most vocal, calling for a slowdown or removal of the club lands from the overall park design, and again voted against both the resolution and the plan on Monday.
“I feel we’re at the same place that we were at two weeks ago,” she said, stating it would be costly to remove club land (comprising a fourth phase) from initial plans, but perhaps worth it.
She again called for council to suspend passing the ASP until talks could take place and standard 20-year terms offered.
Dumanowski responded that the talks, coupled with requirements in the area structure plan to open discussions when land sales reached a certain distance from the club sites, offered a double layer of protection.
“You’re got a front-row seat to negotiate with out senior administrators, and if you want 20 years, you got it,” he said.
Club members who argued that any change to the zoning would affect their ability to make improvements or seek out investment, appeared skeptical.
“We’re in no better position than we were two weeks ago,” said Dave Toth, president of the Medicine Hat Drag Strip, whose facility spans the top two quarter-sections. Officials argued potential plans to create a rail link may go ahead sooner than later.
The Medicine Hat Rifle and Revolver Club, the RC Flyers and Speedway as well were located in the area about 30 years ago.
Mayor Linnsie Clark said she ran on a platform of improving quality of life in the city, which requires both recreation activity and economic development.
“I feel it provides that balance,” she said, but the issue shows “(the city) has some trust to build.”
The NW Industrial park plan would see almost 1,000 acres of land near Box Springs Road designated for industrial and heavy industrial use, then marketed for new investment by city economic developers.
City planners and economic developers said last week the land mass – mostly unbroken and near highway and rail infrastructure that is already within a municipality – is rare, and should be designated to spell out certainty for potential investors.
Knodel, Dumanowski and Coun. Darren Hirsch all spoke about the need to balance the decision.
“I support the (NW park) – full stop – but I also support a mutual course forward with the clubs,” said Hirsch.
Coun. Andy McGrogan said talks and the structure of the planning give some certainty to the clubs.
“I’m concerned about the quality of life for our citizens … the economy of medicine hat is also extremely important,” he said. “It’s a good middle ground.