RM plans provoke tensions: City asks for freeze on major projects

By Jeff Davis, For The Star Phoenix April 26, 2013 - City of Saskatoon officials have requested a freeze on major developments in areas immediately surrounding Saskatoon for as long as two years.

That's too much to ask, says Corman Park reeve Judy Harwood.

"I would hate to think the city would expect Corman Park to shut down for two years and not do any development," Harwood said in an interview.

"It's so unfair."

On April 8, Saskatoon city manager Murray Totland sent a policy letter to Cor-man Park's acting administrator, Adam Tittemore, and forwarded copies to his counterparts in Warman, Martensville and Osler.

"It is respectfully requested that the proposed (Official Community Plan) amendments be set aside for a period of time, perhaps up to 24 months, while regional partners consider a collective approach to land use and infrastructure development," Totland wrote.

According to the Ministry of Municipal Relations, an Official Community Plan (OCP) is the "keystone of the planning process and is essential in managing future growth," governing issues that range from water protection and economic development to settlement patterns.

Members of the Corman Park municipal council expressed displeasure with the letter at a meeting on April 15.

"Why are they kind of trying to work in our kitchen here?" said Coun. Sherry Mervold. "They don't have the right ... Why don't they mind their own business?"

Harwood said Saskatoon city planners fail to appreciate the inherent appeal of rural living, which is driving demand for acreages.

"What they have to recognize is that there are people who want to live in the country," she said. "How do you tell someone on their land ... that they can't split off their land and have their daughter or their son build."

Totland's letter was a response to Corman Park's plan to loosen rules around land use, allowing residents to parcel off agricultural land into acreages. Under the proposed plan, Corman Park landowners could subdivide five dwelling unit parcels per quarter section, or three per 80 acres.

"The proposed OCP amendments will facilitate a fragmented settlement pattern that is hard to sustain over time, and will impede the rational growth plans of Saskatoon and other urban centres," Totland wrote.

Tittemore said council will push ahead with its subdivision legislation in spite of the city's letter.

Disputes over land use between Saskatoon and Corman Park are not new. As far back as the mid-1950s, Saskatoon planners expressed concern about haphazard sprawl into the city's outskirts, leading to a joint planning agreement between the two municipalities.

The agreement has been revised and updated over the years, leading to the creation of an initial one-mile buffer zone, called the district planning area, between the city and Corman Park in 1983. The idea was to protect the city's growth area from developments that wouldn't fit with the city's plans.

Saskatoon recently revised its 50-to 75-year population projections from 500,000 to over one million. Since the city has already expanded nearly to the edge of the district planning area in some spots, Totland said it will likely have to be expanded again.

"Our interest lies in this urban fringe that surrounds the existing planning district," he said. "Its restricted to the future urban boundary, and that's not the entire RM by any means."

Corman Park Coun. David Fox said the RM's proposed changes to rules governing land subdivision strike a "reasonable balance" between the needs of Saskatoon and the RM.

"The RM needs to increase its population density in order to cover infrastructure costs," he told the RM council meeting. "We can't just sit and wait for the city to tell us when they want to annex land, so I think we should go ahead with this bylaw change."

Jill Gunn, an assistant professor of geography and planning at the University of Saskatchewan, said there is a pressing need for Saskatoon and the surrounding RMs to hammer out a mutually beneficial regional strategic land use plan.

Gunn said the city's request for a moratorium on OCP changes is reasonable, since it would likely take 14 to 18 months to develop.

"It is essential to avoid taking an ad hoc, piecemeal approach to land use decisions," she said. "There is real danger that an unco-ordinated approach to community planning and land use management will result in serious cumulative impacts to the land base and society that are difficult, and often impossible, to reverse."

Ignoring the issue will only make things worse, Gunn said.

"We really only have one chance, collectively, to get the future of Saskatoon and region right, and that is before irreversible development decisions are taken."

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