By Steve Hubrecht
[email protected]

After much discussion, circling back and forth on the issue for more than an hour, Canal Flats council voted — during its most recent meeting — to direct village staff to approve building permits for the proposed Mended Star Farms development, when the project proponent applies for them, without a development agreement in effect. 

The motion eventually approved by council included the important caveat that if and when the village adopts an official Development Cost Charges (DCC), which the village is considering potentially doing at some point, that Mended Star Farms’s DCC contribution be limited to no more than $11,500 — an amount equal to half the anticipated cost of road upgrades along the development’s frontage on Baillie Grohman Avenue.

The Mended Star Farms development would see a greenhouse, gardens, orchard, two residences and two retail spots for gardening built on the old log yard. The issue of contribution to road upgrades had been a topic of discussion between village staff and project proponents. The village had suggested a capital contribution of $65,000 from Mended Star, which project proponents balked at, and in response, threatened to pull out their development proposal.

In emails to Mended Star and again in a report to Canal Flats council members during their Monday, March 8 meeting, Canal Flats chief administrative officer Adrian Bergles outlined the rationale for the requested $65,000 contribution, noting the development is on a low-traffic residential street, that some of the proposed commercial uses at Mended Star would require heavy truck traffic to supply retail goods, and that village infrastructure in the area is not constructed to handle regular trips by heavier commercial vehicles. He noted that in discussion with the developer, it was mutually determined that the Burns Avenue, Shaughnessy Street, and Baillie Grohman route to Mended Star would be the most appropriate traffic route. The suggested $65,000 contribution reflected contract paving quotes for portions of those three streets, with the village chipping in the cost for Burns Avenue, and with Mended Star paying the balance for Shaughnessy and Baillie Grohman, and with Mended Star able to recover up to 60 per cent of its contribution from future development in the log yard.

In a letter responding to this clarification, planning consultant Johnathan Schmidt, representing Mended Star proponent Urth Homes Ltd. wrote the developers are frustrated by what they perceive as flexibility or ambiguity in the contribution amount.

“The lack of a monetary amount within the letter provided suggests to Urth Homes that the village wishes Urth Homes to suggest an amount. We believe it is improper for Urth Homes to put forward during this discussion an amount Urth Homes is willing to pay as that would simply be an extraction of money from a developer without an objective rationale from the village to justify such a contribution,” wrote Schmidt. “It continues to be the position of Urth Homes that the anticipated traffic volumes and traffic types from Mended Star are well within the existing capacities of the roads within the village that are required to access the subject parcel. In our opinion no objective data has been provided that is contrary to this claim.” 

Schmidt went on to add that Urth Homes disagrees that the Baillie Grohman area is a residential neighbourhood on a low traffic residential street, that the development will require heavy truck traffic, and that village infrastructure couldn’t handle the traffic volumes accompanying the development. “We would like to reiterate that the financial costs proposed verbally (roughly $65,000) by village administration for Mended Star pertaining to roads is not acceptable to Urth Homes and will result in a withdrawal of the proposed development from the village,” he wrote.

“Staff is not in agreement with the proponent representative that contributions to off-site works in this instance are not appropriate,” Bergles told council at the meeting. 

Bergles noted that the development is “precedent setting” and that it “may potentially be a catalyst for other developments on the log yard. It’s an exciting project and decisions made on this development will affect future development for the rest of the log yard property and potentially across the village.” The vision of Mended Star as a place at which residents can engage in horticultural-based activities that support their community and reconnect them with nature means it has the potential to draw people into the village, and it will provide seasonal employment, outlined Bergles. 

In a report on the situation presented to council, village staff outlined three broad options for council: authorizes staff to continue to negotiate with the developers; instruct staff to withhold building permits until a development agreement can be reached with Mended Star; or instruct staff to issue building permits when applied for, per the Mended Star Master Plan, without a development agreement. In the report, district staff recommended the first option, but Bergles went to pains to reiterate several times that the proposed development is an exciting one for the village, and village staff are quite happy to proceed with whichever options council chooses.

Councillor Marie Delorme raised objections to making the developer pay for re-paving on three roads and said she doesn’t envision a tremendous strain on the roads as a result of the development. “I question whether the amount of traffic going to this development is anywhere different from the logging trucks that have been going on these roads for, well the past 35 years I’ve been here,” she said. “I feel like this development is not going to really create that much more traffic compared with Ponderosa Place, or the cafe, grocery store or post office.”

Delorme also said “I disagree that it’s setting precedent…I don’t see that”, going on to add it’s her understanding that council looks at each development individually, and so wouldn’t be beholden to not charging future developers for off-site contributions just because it didn’t work for Mended Star.

Councillor Doug McCutcheon said he agreed with Delorme about Mended Star not bringing in much heavy traffic, saying, “I don’t think the road is an issue at all” and that he’d like to see the project move forward. He did emphasize, however, that he felt the developer must make some contribution, pointing out that the property is owned by mayor Karl Sterzer (who sat out the discussion, because of the inherent conflict of interest) and saying that not charging any development fees of any sort for a development on land owned by the mayor does not sit well with him, and could easily be viewed unfavourably by other village residents.

“It’s the mayor’s property, so here we go on the edge of giving him a preferential treatment over others,” said McCutcheon, reiterating that he’s not okay with that, and suggesting that council consider leaving the door open to future development contribution charges should Canal Flats adopt a DCC bylaw.

Councillor Bill Lake countered that it would be unfair to charge a developer in the future, especially if the amount was unclear because that cost might be the difference in whether or not the business is viable. “The application is in today, the rules that are in place today should apply today,” said Lake. “I can’t see how we can charge a (future) DCC when we don’t know what it (the amount) is.”

Lake and Delorme also both clarified that their opinions on charging a contribution have nothing to do with the property being owned by Sterzer, and that they would have the same opinion irrespective of who owned the property. 

Delorme pointed out that Mended Star is the first amenity development proposal to come along in Canal Flats in quite a few years. “There has been nothing else in this community,” she said.

After all the discussion, council eventually put forward a motion to approve building permits for the proposed Mended Star Farms development, when the project proponent applies for them, without a development agreement in effect. The motion contained the rationale that the proposed use of Mended Star Farms is not significantly different than previous commercial uses of the property, and saw the village reserving the right to collect some kind of development charge contributions if and when Canal Flats adopts a DCC bylaw, with that amount not to exceed $23,000 (which is the cost to re-pave just the portion of Baillie Grohman Avenue that Mended Star would have frontage on). The council vote on this motion ended in a two-two tie, meaning it was defeated.

Councillor Bill Lake noted that it is typical in many developments agreement for the municipality to split the cost of off-site works, and proposed another motion, exactly the same as the first, but with the amount of the potential future contribution not to exceed $11,500 (effectively splitting the cost of the re-paving of the portion of Baillie Grohman 50-50 between the developer and the village). This motion passed by a three-to-one margin, with only Delorme voting against it.