Development stays steady, struggles seem certain in 2016

Development in Ponoka County has been strong and steady for several years though the outlook on the horizon is certainly stormy.

Development in Ponoka County has been strong and steady for several years though the outlook on the horizon is certainly stormy.

In 2015, there were 54 subdivision applications filed and approved, down slightly from the numbers the three previous years of 68 (2014), 69 (2013) and 71 (2012) though about the same as 2011 when there were 55.

Meanwhile, a total of 219 building and development permits were issued by the county, which was down a bit from the 249 issued in 2014. However, the number was on pace with the 212 approved in 2013 when the huge jump in the economy spurred a mini-boom from 2012 and 2011 when the numbers were 164 and 158 respectively.

While the figures look decent, the reasoning behind the numbers speaks volumes about where the economy is leading things.

“In previous years, subdivision applications were done for three reasons farmers parcelling off pieces of land to support their operations in times of financial need or to provide a piece of land for a family member to live on and mainly around the lake areas for housing developments,” said Charlie Cutforth, Ponoka County’s chief administrative officer in an interview last week.

“Last year, the majority of the subdivision requests were for single parcels, likely being split off for family members or in order to finance their current operations.”

Cutforth also agreed that the downturn in the oil and gas industry last year, and seemingly getting worse in the early part of this year with no sign of an upswing on the horizon, will definitely affect the numbers in 2016.

“I believe that activity will certainly slow down, especially with the large number of properties that are currently available on the market. There looks to be a bit of an oversupply (of subdivisions) that wasn’t there when the oil and gas industries were humming and people wanted those kinds of lakeside properties,” he said.

“I am not looking to see anywhere near the same numbers in 2016 as we had even last year, since the real estate market is slowing down as well. Years ago, people could finance 100 per cent of their purchase, but with the marked shift recently, things are changing and you might even see people having problems hanging onto properties.”

Cutforth also foresees a substantial drop in the number of permits that will be requested in 2016.

“Last year, the majority of permits were issued for people constructing garages or shops or simply doing small improvements to their home or property,” he said.

“Usually, the first thing that people quit doing when the economy dips is spending money they don’t feel they need to do. I’m not going to be surprised to see the numbers far lower than the 200-plus we have seen in the past.

“The county is fortunate that development is not difficult here. The process to get it done is minimal with cost just $25 for permit regardless of who it is for an individual or business or how much the development is worth. I think it is one of the big attractions for the county as well as us having among the lowest taxes in the province and our work to ensure the county is a good place to do business. We know it works as witnessed by the property taxes helping us pay for the paving of a road for some industrial properties that have been built in recent years.”