To be sustainable, Ponoka must grow — mayor

Ponoka needs to annex adjacent county land to meet the demand for industrial land and to provide the amenities residents and employers expect in a sustainable community.

  • Sep. 8, 2009 6:00 a.m.
This map shows the area of Ponoka County the Town of Ponoka wants to annex.

This map shows the area of Ponoka County the Town of Ponoka wants to annex.

By George Brown

Ponoka needs to annex adjacent county land to meet the demand for industrial land and to provide the amenities residents and employers expect in a sustainable community.

In an interview with the Ponoka News, Mayor Larry Henkelman explained why the Town of Ponoka has given notice to Ponoka County and to neighbouring landowners that it intends to annex about 1,100 acres.

“The annexation is needed for industrial and commercial land,” the mayor said. “We’re out. We’ve got to be ready when the economy turns around.

“If we miss the next go-round, and we already missed the last one…”

Ponoka is competing with other municipalities in the Calgary-Edmonton corridor for new businesses, new tax assessment and major employers, he added. Moving closer to Highway 2 improves Ponoka’s profile.

“That’s where businesses want to be,” Henkelman said. “If they come to Ponoka, they want to be between Highway 2A and Highway 2.”

Henkelman has taken prospective new business owners on a tour of properties in town but they were not interested in current areas. “They just said, ‘Keep driving.’

“We have businesses leaving Ponoka because they can’t get what they want.”

Town and county councils have an understanding that if an industrial business in Ponoka County, on land adjacent to the town, wants to connect to Ponoka’s utility services, county council will grant immediate approval for annexation.

But Henkelman said that annexation support from the county still needs formal approval from Alberta’s Municipal Government Board. While town council appreciates the support, it would prefer to have a proper annexation and land development plan to a piecemeal approach.

“When we have developers who want to come, they don’t want to wait to get approval from the county and then approval from the Alberta government.

“They want to deal with one municipality and they want a quick turn around,” Henkelman said. “I think the county would rather have the town do it (develop industrial land.)”

He explained the Town of Ponoka is hemmed in somewhat in its options to develop industrial land within its current boundary and must expand. There’s the river and its flood plain, environmental areas that cannot be developed, topographical constraints, the airport, stampede grounds and the density of existing residential neighbourhoods.

“We do have land that is serviceable that is in our community but the owners are just not interested in developing it.”

Some current businesses in town are limited in their ability to expand because neighbouring parcels, on which they might build, are not for sale.

“The people who own it are not interested in selling it and they’re not interested in developing it. The town can’t force people to (develop) their property.

Ponoka’s annexation proposal is contentious because of the country residential development outside of town dealing with dozens of landowners instead of a few owners of large farms.

“We’re dealing with residential homes, acreage owners. If we wait another five years, instead of dealing with 65 people we’re going to be dealing with 90 people.

“They don’t want to be annexed but for the future, Ponoka has to expand west.”

Of the 65 landowners contacted by the Town of Ponoka, at least 25 want to meet with the town’s consultant, Armin A. Preiksaitis and Associates Ltd., but Henkelman said there are some county ratepayers in support of the annexation bid.

“It’s not all negative. We’ve had some people come in and say they agree. We’ve also had people come in and ask why their land isn’t included.”

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Annexation would also help to solve some land jurisdiction and planning issues along the current boundary, Henkelman explained.

“This growth study will help us with our next municipal development plan. The current plan is outdated.”

The mayor explained the town’s growth study identified that with a 50-year projection of moderate one-per-cent growth, Ponoka would have 13,182 residents— double the current population.

“The Alberta government tells us we should plan 30 to 50 years ahead for our water system, our sewage system.”

“Right now our lagoons are good for a population for 7,500 people,” Henkelman said. With the improvements approved recently by council it will be good for a population over 10,000.

Ponoka has the small town atmosphere that is attractive to industry, the mayor said, because it has modern infrastructure, good schools, a hospital, recreation and community services and a strong downtown business core.

“Downtown looks pretty good,” Henkelman said. “We don’t have a lot of empty buildings.”

But Ponoka needs more residential growth and industrial expansion to attract a wider variety of stores and community services.

“We’ve got a lot going on in town,” Henkelman said, referring to the amount of construction this summer. “Recreation facilities and utility infrastructure wouldn’t be getting the attention they are this soon if not for federal and provincial grants.”

“We didn’t want to leave future councils in a position that everything has to be replaced or expanded all at once.”

Improvements to 50th Street north of downtown will eventually open that area up to redevelopment and the new intersection over the railway tracks at 57th Avenue will provide better access to the Northeast Industrial Park. “We’re sold out of land there too.”

Henkelman believes businesses are waiting to see what happens with the annexation proposal before committing to buying and developing land in Ponoka.

“All it takes is one big business to come into our community, hire 100 people and it would just blow everything out.

“If Hi-Tech gets to the point where they’re ready to open, you’ll see a lot of things happen all of a sudden in Ponoka.”

Henkelman said Ponoka needs more land for industrial development and those businesses demand exposure and easy access to Highway 2. And Ponoka needs more industry to grow.

“When we look back 50 years from now, we’ll all agree it was the right decision for Ponoka and for the region.”