This map shows the areas proposed for industrial, mixed use and residential development in the draft area structure plan presented last week to Ponoka County council.                                Image: Ponoka County

This map shows the areas proposed for industrial, mixed use and residential development in the draft area structure plan presented last week to Ponoka County council. Image: Ponoka County

Ponoka County gets first look at Highway 2 development plan

Council to move forward on initial draft on Highway 2 area structure plan

At first glance, Ponoka County’s draft area structure plan looks to have a good mix between development and addressing concerns.

Council heard from consultant Bob Riddett at its meeting on June 13, who presented the initial report on how much and where industrial development should be placed along the west side of Highway 2 between Highway 53 and the county border to the south.

The draft calls for about eight parcels of land within the one mile area west of the highway to be zoned for industrial development.

Four of those pieces are located on the southwest corner of the Highway 53 interchange, while one is on the northwest corner of the interchange with Matejka Road. The other three parcels are located south of the former C &E Trail to the county line, between the highway and Range Road 263.

Overall, slightly less than 1,000 acres have been allocated to house industrial lots in the area. Meanwhile, one piece of land — a 95-acre parcel on the north side of C &E Trail — has been designated for residential mixed use in order to create a buffer between industrial development and the Pleasant Hills subdivision.

The draft also identified two areas of potential residential development — 180-acres immediately north of Pleasant Hills and 150-acres along Gee Road west of RR 263.

In addition, conservation areas have been outlined around the subdivision and in the Battle River valley to eliminate the chance of any development in those areas.

Riddett explained this first draft took into account concepts along with all topics and concerns expressed during the public meeting earlier this year. However, there are still a couple of gaps in the document since a water report has yet to be completed and a traffic study still needs to be done.

“The water work won’t take that long, the traffic engineering is the only thing that could hold us back,” he told council.

“One of the most valuable things I think we did was have that (public) meeting back in April. We got a lot of good information out of it.”

A couple of the reasons behind Riddett’s recommendations on development include the future expansion of Highway 2, the current land uses nearby and the need to not only conserve environmentally sensitive land, but the right of landowners to continue to run agricultural operations should they wish.

“There seems to be plenty of land for residential development around Ponoka, but there are not many areas with highway access, which industry is seeking. So, that’s what makes (the area west of Wolf Creek Golf Resort) the most attractive,” he said, noting good landscaping can hide development from view.

County roads were also looked at and Riddett stated any development, especially on the south end of RR 263, would help to pay to upgrade — preferably with pavement — any roads that would cater to industrial lots.

One update to the plan will come with regards to Alberta Transportation’s idea to push Highway 2 to six or eight lanes through the area, since it wasn’t yet clear just how much land will be needed. Consideration will also be needed as the interchanges at Matejka Road and Highway 53 will be upgraded and the one at Gee Road removed.

Reeve Paul McLauchlin agreed with Riddett’s conclusion that the area structure plan — as laid out in the draft — will mean substantial investment in infrastructure upgrades, but will also bring opportunities to diversify the county’s tax base.

“Ponoka County should approach this as an investment. If we build the infrastructure, it will promote development and I think it is something we should look at,” he said.

“Long-term, is to leverage existing resources to build future resources as our oil and gas revenue is on the way down. If we can take our money and invest properly in infrastructure that would be a way to increase our revenue and the proper way to grow. The goal (of the plan) is to create certainty for the future and I think that is all we can do.”

The aim is still to get the final draft done and to hold another public consultation this summer so it doesn’t interfere with the municipal election coming in October.