There is no crystal ball when planning for the future but for town planners an educated guess is perhaps the next best thing.
As the town makes changes to its 1997 Municipal Development Plan, councillors and town staff try to explained some of the issues they see for the future.
The last time the MDP was updated was 16 years ago and a lot has happened since then. Land has been annexed, the downtown area has more empty stores than ever before and councillors are trying to think of new ways to drive traffic to the downtown core. Committee vice-chairman Rick Bonnett offered his thoughts on the proposed MDP.
Paying for services poses a challenge for the town since annexed land by the highway interchange is quite a distance from the rest of town services but Bonnett feels there must be some cost sharing with the Town of Ponoka and developers. “How much are you willing to expand your town and tax base?”
“It’s going to cost us some money to get there,” he added.
He does not feel developers should bear the full brunt of the cost of service installation.
Cost-sharing is a possibility for the area, said Betty Jurykoski, planning and development officer in an interview. Contractors are generally responsible for the cost of town services such as sewer, water and power but those costs are going to be high for annexed land. “The town wants to bring development out there.”
“To get activity going and generate some thing here we might have to consider it,” she added.
Septic systems could be a possibility that the town would look at on a case-by-case basis, she added.
Bonnett sees one area of the MDP there appears to be a contradiction: maintenance of existing recreation facilities takes priority over new construction but some of the existing buildings appear to be nearing the end of their lives, such as the aquaplex.
Bonnett disagrees with the statement and feels it needs to be addressed.
“I don’t really like that statement to tell you the truth…You can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig,” he stated.
Despite no capital plan to replace or repair the buildings — much of the recreation reserve was spent on updating the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex — Bonnett feels the town and county users should come together and set a plan for new recreation buildings. He suggests a recreation board should run the buildings with a manager in place.
“Recreation is a bigger draw (for) families and businesses,” he stated.
Jurykoski suggests groups that come together to plan a new recreation project should start with the town to make things happen. “It needs to be a more cohesive plan.”
The MDP also sets out guidelines to expand the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury but the only way the town can influence this is by lobbying the provincial government, said Bonnett.
There are several large capital projects over the horizon for Ponoka; a new or renovated RCMP building and the north bridge needs to be replaced. Besides those there appears to be demand for a multiplex as stated in the Ponoka Recreation Advisory Committee report. These are projects that could cost the town millions of dollars.
Betty Quinlan, director of corporate services, says there are $57 million worth of projects that need to be done over the next six to 10 years. Because there is a limited amount of money to spend, $34 million worth will be pushed forward. Recreation has always been part of a long-range plan but only in conjunction with other building plans.
Bonnett feels borrowing money may be one of the options. “Sometimes you’ve gotta take those risks.”
Jurykoski says the MDP maps an area structure plan with a desire to see several new residential subdivisions from high density residential to low cost housing. Modular home companies have expressed an interest in being able to move buildings onto available land. “There is a need for those types of lots.”
An area of the MDP Jurykoski does not agree with is planning for people who moved from group homes and special care buildings such as the Michener Centre. She feels the town should be aware of the needs of the community but not for one group.
“I don’t agree that we should pre-plan for one specific group,” offered Jurykoski. “We are a community that should plan for all ages and abilities.”
Revitalizing downtown is another focus of the MDP and with that focus Jurykoski can work with companies or building owners who are considering tearing down an old building in the area. This opens up the potential for higher density. With more people in the downtown area comes a greater demand for services, she explained. “I think that is needed in our town.”
“We want to make it more aesthetically pleasing to draw people in,” she added.
There is an allowance in the MDP to move town hall away from the downtown area but does not clarify why. Jurykoski says the only reason the building would move is if there were a fire hall, RCMP, a library and other services in the same spot. Right now the current town hall is outdated and the town owns land behind it for expansion.
“We don’t have a one-stop shop,” she said.
CAO Brad Watson says Ponoka Elementary School’s pink building has potential to be made public space and for municipal offices. “It’s one option that the town has considered. We’ve said, ‘Hey, there’s lots of possibilities.’”
Jurykoski also feels there is also a possibility to build a new town hall and town square behind the current building to keep the downtown Ponoka a central area.
There is also consideration of moving the Fort Ostell Museum to the downtown area to drive foot traffic there but only when the current building outlasts its life.
The MDP gives an overview for developers and the development officer and councillors will soon pass first reading on the bylaw, after which they will seek public input.