An open house designed to obtain ideas and suggestions for what should be allowed for a stretch of land along Highway 2 in Ponoka County proved more difficult to do than anticipated.
More than 60 people showed up to the April 19 meeting in the Ponoka County council chamber, so many in fact that several were left standing — both in the room and the hallways.
CAO Charlie Cutforth was surprised at the number of people that showed up for what was supposed to be an information gathering session by consultant Robert Riddett.
Riddett was hired last month to come up with a proposed plan for deal with the kinds of development that would be allowed in an area that is one mile wide on the west side of Highway 2, running from Highway 53 south to the county line at Secondary Highway 604.
However, due in part to the number of people in attendance and the opposition expressed to any development in the area, little was presented in the way of finding out what portion of the area would be fit for development and what kind should be allowed.
“The county has to build up its tax base and Highway 2 has good potential for industrial development,” Riddett told the crowd.
“This study will go into more detail about land uses, how those fit or don’t go together, how the sites are serviced, what undevelopable land would be and any potential environmental effects. That is why it was felt the need to get opinions — not just on the pros and cons of development — but on what kinds of development should be looked at.”
Riddett also explained he wanted to take away from the meeting any effects on farmland development may have, any separation needed and what effect development may have on the Town of Ponoka.
Cutforth also tried to allay any fears by stating the county has no set plan as to what the outcome of this study will be and that a draft plan will be presented to the public prior to Ponoka County council seeing it.
“This meeting was to help provide input and find out what all potentially affected landowners wishes were, both for and against,” he said.
“We know Highway 2 is a huge target for commercial and industrial development and the biggest opportunity to replace oil and gas revenue down the road. So, this was intended to be as objective and unbiased as possible and there needs to be a plan so we can deal with this properly.”
James Ray Reed, who lives in the area, knows the county needs to diversify and develop commercial properties, but wants them to look at other areas.
“You’re looking at some of the most beautiful land in the area and the people in Pleasant Hills and acreages nearby don’t want to see industry,” he said.
“Leave us alone, leave agriculture that will eventually turn to residential. Put industry, which we need, somewhere we have the land that will work. We need it, but not there. That’s the wrong spot.”
Another county resident, Jim Lysons, felt the whole concept of having a plan would tie council’s hands when a developer comes calling because the plan states what type of development is and isn’t allowed.
“Even if council doesn’t like what is proposed, council’s hands would be tied because the plan says that’s the kind of development council wants,” he said.
However, both Cutforth and Riddett pointed out a plan is preferable to the piecemeal and patchwork development that has taken place in the county along Highway 2 north of Ponoka.
“The choice is to spend on this now and the plan may say ‘no’ to industrial development. But, at least down the road, we won’t have to deal with applications individually,” he stated.
“I would much rather tell a potential developer that it isn’t going to fly because it’s not suitable in our plan, than do it like we have now and leave it where applications are free willy. For the confidence of the residents, a plan gives them a better level of comfort than not knowing what may go there.”
Concerns regarding leaving wetlands and natural areas in the study were addressed by Riddett, who stated all of the environmentally sensitive areas and residential areas will be looked at regarding setbacks from any development. He added a traffic pattern and engineering study plus a preliminary water study will be completed prior to a draft plan being finished.
The hope is to have the draft back for further public consultation later this summer and a final plan completed prior to the municipal elections in October.
Anyone wishing to provide additional comments or were not able to speak at the open house are encouraged to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.