City plans for a million people: Farmland to be transformed

By Charles Hamilton, The Star Phoenix July 11, 2013 - Sparsely populated farmland outside the city will be covered by highrise apartments and dense suburbs as the population in and around Saskatoon grows to one million people in the next 50 years, civic officials say.

Saskatoon's newest growth projections show the urban population spreading out, reaching as far as Martensville and Warman, with new roads, water lines and sanitary sewers stretching well beyond the city's current boarders. A regional transit system could bring commuters travelling back and forth between Saskatoon and the surrounding cities.

Wallace With growth in Martensville, Warman, Osler and the rural municipality of Corman Park, the area in and around Saskatoon could reach a population of 1.2 million in 60 years, according to the latest projections.

"We are trying to paint a different picture, a compelling vision of this region as an urban region rather than a collection of municipalities," said Alan Wallace, the city's manager of planning and development.

"We are a rural province. We have been forever. But what we need to do is start thinking about providing a vision and a strategy for urban growth."

The dramatic transformation from rural countryside to urban neighbourhoods in the area around Saskatchewan's largest city raises questions for some, including Corman Park Reeve Judy Harwood, who fears the long-term plans could stall development before new neighbourhoods are built.

"I think it's always good to dream big - there is no doubt about that," she said. "We don't want to have a mistake where we find out we plunked something in the path of development, but at the same time I am concerned about the ratepayers of Corman Park."

The proposed new boundaries that extend past Osler in the north encompass about a third of land in the rural municipality that surrounds Saskatoon. While the city has not outlined any plans to amalgamate surrounding communities or immediately annex any new land, there are plans to extend services north to allow the expansion of new neighbourhoods.

Those future neighbourhoods could be built on land owned by residents of Corman Park.

"I think they have to rethink how those boundaries are drawn. I think we have to come back with new boundaries," Harwood said, adding that the RM was not consulted before the new growth boundaries were drawn up.

It's still unclear whether the new urban expansion will lead to any changes to the political structure - whether Saskatoon's city council will control the entire area, or a collection of smaller municipalities will remain.

In a phone interview from China, where he's travelling to promote economic development, Mayor Don Atchison said the city is releasing the plan far in advance so there's time to manage the change.

"I think if you have fewer governments you are always better off. Those are discussions that have to be had with different communities," Atchison said.

Saskatoon isn't the only municipality expecting a population explosion. Martensville is projected to grow tenfold, to more than 70,000 people, over the coming decades.

Scott Blevins, Martensville's city manager, said the regional strategy makes sense given the close ties between the communities in the area.

Ultimately it will be up to councils of the day to figure out the jurisdictional arguments.

"There are definitely options down the road, whether it's an option of Martensville becoming part of Saskatoon or whether it's like the Greater Toronto Area where you drive from city to city without even knowing you are in a different municipality," Blevins said.

As opposed to simply annexing land and amalgamating communities into the City of Saskatoon, the city's plan is to create a new regional partnership that would dictate what the march toward one million will look like - for instance, where commercial, residential, and industrial developments will be located. "What we are trying to avoid is any urban-versusrural adversarial situation that develops," Wallace said.

Atchison said releasing the plan this early will give rural residents fair warning that the city is coming their way and a lot of discussions still need to happen.

"We want to give people full disclosure (and) all the information we can at this time about where the city is going so we don't run into those problems in the future where someone comes to tell us, 'I built my home recently and I never dreamt the city was going to build out here and I don't want to be part of your community,' " he said.

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