Rural mega-mall to go ahead despite ruling
The city may have been the victor in a development tug of war with its rural neighbours, but Rocky View County’s reeve says a green light for a massive shopping centre is a win for his municipality.In late December, the municipal government board ruled in favour of a majority of the City of Calgary’s objections to Rocky View’s Omni area structure plan, a vast 517-hectare swath of land on the city’s eastern limits, south of Country Hills Boulevard and east of Stoney Trail.However, the panel said despite agreeing that the majority of the development plan could have a “detrimental impact” on the city given the planning area’s scale, the heart of the project, a 75-hectare, $300-million shopping and commercial centre proposed by Genesis Land Development Corp. at 84th Street N.E. and a future extension of Airport Trail will be allowed to move forward.“Considering the approval of the Omni ASP and the advanced state of Genesis’ planning for the Omni Project, further delays would unnecessarily affect the landowner’s interest in proceeding with its development,” read the ruling.Meanwhile, the bulk of the land plan will form what the panel called a “special study area,” which will allow for the completion of transportation network studies and comprehensive planning under the Calgary metropolitan regional growth plan.Despite the municipal government board hitting the pause button on the bulk of the planning zone, Rocky View Reeve Greg Boehlke said he’s pleased with the decision as it will allow a critical piece of economic development for the rural municipality to move forward.“We are happy with the ruling,” Boehlke said, noting that despite the dispute with the county’s much larger neighbour, he believes the process has helped thaw relations between the two municipalities, which in the past had been occasionally frosty. “I would call it a bit of a thaw. They’re starting to realize we don’t have horns hiding under our hair, and we’re just as capable as they are at putting together a good plan.”The county approved the Omni area structure plan in 2017, aiming to transform the area along the city’s northeast border from agricultural land to a highway business hub with a variety of commercial and light industrial uses.But last summer, the city raised objections, arguing the massive development would require significant investment in traffic infrastructure to the tune of about $60 million and strain the city’s emergency services. As well, the city argued the vision for the area was far more intensive than what’s outlined in the county’s development plan.Given the potential effect of such a far-reaching development plan, the municipal government board, which heard from both parties in July, said Calgary could be unduly affected without more thoughtful planning.“The MGB finds the balance of the Omni ASP (beyond the Omni Project) introduces a significant level of planning uncertainty that may have a detrimental impact from Calgary’s perspective,” the panel wrote.“In addition, detriment arises to Calgary from a combination of the intensity of proposed land uses and associated traffic, together with uncertainty as to the timing and nature of necessary transportation upgrades and the sources of funding for those upgrades.”Calgary Coun. George Chahal, whose northeast Calgary ward sits alongside the Omni lands, said while the city has no issue with its rural neighbours looking to grow, the city shouldn’t be left on the hook for critical infrastructure needed to support large-scale development outside its borders and tax base.“We believe the municipal government board’s precedent-setting decision will bring a needed reconsideration of the Omni Area Structure Plan, which proposed substantial regional commercial development on Calgary’s east side,” he said in a statement.“While The City of Calgary recognizes and supports Rocky View County’s efforts to bring new development to our region, The City has made it clear that all new developments in the Rocky View County should not be subsidized by Calgary’s residents and businesses.”Genesis vice-president of land development Arnie Stefaniuk said the company is now moving forward on crafting a conceptual scheme for the county, adding the location along a future Airport Trail expansion is a key factor in its future success.“It is very early in the process and much work still needs to be done on technical issues and figuring out retailer needs, etc.,” he said in an emailed statement.“There will be more information released as the development approval process unfolds.”The planned shopping mecca, which has a footprint about 28 hectares larger than the nearby East Hills shopping centre, envisions a massive retail and outlet centre, restaurants and cafes, three boutique hotels, a children’s creative zone, a seniors living community and a large office campus.Boehlke said while the approved commercial area will still be facing a 12- to 15-year build-out, the broader region had always been eyed as a long-term growth plan, to be developed over the next three or four decades.As such, he doesn’t see the municipal government board’s ruling as a major roadblock for the rural municipality.“As the regions grow out, there’s going to be room for all of us in the future,” Boehlke said.“When you have a major metropolis like Calgary, which has had most of the growth to itself for years, it’s a bit of an adjustment.”
A proposed OMNI shopping and commercial development on Calgary’s eastern outskirts has received approval.
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