February 19th, 2016
The Politics of Farming: Municipal Development
If you’ve been a part of the RBG community for a while now you’ll know that the area of Edmonton we farm in (Horse Hills), is the site of some major planned development. The thing about development is that it takes a lot of time and process for things to move forward. In addition to this, the Horse Hills is a diverse area that contains many stakeholders, many viewpoints and a lot of recent municipal planning history.
The Area Structure Plan
In February 2013, the ASP (Area Structure Plan) was presented to the Edmonton City Council and after multiple days of public hearing, the plan was passed. This wasn’t great news for RBG because within the ASP there is a provincial highway planned to bisect the farm.
In fact, it goes right over most of our farm buildings, house and upper field. We really wanted the city to postpone approving these plans until further research could be done to find alternative routes for this highway. We were present at the public hearings, felt our position was heard by may of our city councillors and were supported by many other interest groups (ie. Greater Edmonton Alliance, Mack Male, individual citizens, etc) but in reality, things just didn’t go our way.
This decision wasn’t because city councillors hate urban agriculture or are against the preservation of land within the city, it’s much more complicated than that.
Private development companies and land owners in the area (Walton Group and Cameron Development to name a couple) hired Stantec to create a proposed ASP and the NSP (Neighbourhood Structure Plan) which they then brought to the city, who must approve or deny it. However, the city is only looking at the city regulated parts of the plan. The highway is part of a Capital Region Transportation Plan, which means it’s ultimately up to the province to decide on the final placement and construction. The problem is that the province really only joins in to make final decisions once the ASP and NSPs have been approved on a municipal level.
Which means in turn, that by the time the province decides to build it, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll revamp already approved plans to move the highway to a different location than what was suggested by developers in the original ASP.
So where are we now in the process?
The ASP has been approved and while we’re disheartened by the suggestions in it, we’re not absolutely against everything it stands for. We know many of our neighbours will benefit from greater attention to Horse Hills and future development. And above all, every stakeholder in the Horse Hills area needs to know sooner rather than later the plans for this section of this city so we can all plan accordingly.
The next step in planning for the city and the developers is to address each NSP (Neighbourhood Structure Plan). Currently RBG land is planned to be split between Neighbourhoods 4 & 5. The frustrating thing about this for us is that we’ll have to be involved not one but two NSP in the future. That means twice the time and twice the resources being exhausted against two separate city approval processes.
NSP 2, the largest neighbourhood in the plan which borders the south side of the farm, was approved by the city this spring and work began in that area right away. Right now, much of the land owned by Walton Group for development in Horse Hills is rented out to farmers to continue to keep it in agricultural use while they’re waiting for NSPs to be approved.
As soon as NSP 2 was approved, the developer began to clear topsoil to support the approved development. However, with the downturn in housing demand that happened parallel to the economic downturn, work slowed and seems to currently be stalled. This breaks our heart since the cleared land which is just sitting, waiting for development lost it’s topsoil and is now not really viable for agricultural use.
And where do we go from here?
Our goal at Riverbend Gardens is to continue to farm on this unique, special land and grow veggies for the Edmonton community. In order to do that, we’ll likely be actively involved in the development process for many years to come. We’ve been meeting with our current provincial elected officials to talk about the land and why it’s important for us to have that highway moved. We’ll be present at the public hearings that will effect the future of the land (NSP 4&5 in particular) and we’ll continue to produce great veggies for our community.
We have no idea how long this will take or the timeline for development. These things are based on so many variable factors that it is impossible to predict. We hope that in the future, if we need to rally a show of support from the public that we can let you know how you can best use your voice to be an advocate for local agriculture and local food!