The Rocky View County (RVC) Subdivision and Development Appeal Board (SDAB) heard final arguments from County administration, Costco representatives, and the two appellants, Denise Dancey and Jeffrey Tooth, during its May 11 hearing on whether or not to uphold a development permit previously issued by RVC for a Costco store at Springbank’s future commercial development, Bingham Crossing, back in February.
Ken Venner of B & A Studios was the first to speak on behalf of the applicant (Costco). Venner reiterated Costco’s and the County’s position that the permit should be upheld because it complied with the underlying Direct Control District, (listed as DC-148), as designated by RVC council for Bingham Crossing.
Venner argued the permit had “silent majority” support among local residents in the Springbank and Harmony communities. He pointed to the number of responses received from local residents by SDAB at the appeal hearing, which showed 140 in favour and 65 opposed.
“There was about 66 per cent support in terms of the letters that were provided,” he reminded SDAB members. “That is a de facto silent majority. I don’t think there has been a lot of vocal support presented directly to the board, and I would just remind all of us there is quite a bit of support for this project in the Springbank community.”
Venner went on state he felt Costco’s application was “thoroughly vetted” by County planners and external consultants prior to RVC administration’s conditional approval in February of Costco’s permit to build in Bingham Crossing. He stated the grocery mega-wholesaler did its due diligence in ensuring the design of the site mitigated traffic impacts a Costco gas bar would bring to the local community, and also addressed concerns about stormwater drainage and wastewater treatment and disposal.
He further argued RVC council’s underlying vision for Bingham Crossing was being respected by Costco due to its conformity to the underlying DC-148 designation – if not, he admitted, the the Master Site Development Plan (MDSP) and Bingham Crossing Phase 2 Conceptual Scheme that was approved by past councils.
“Regardless of the fact this application is being sort of advanced in advance of all the lifestyle centre (in Bingham Crossing’s Phase One planning), I have to emphasize again that the design, the vision, of Bingham Crossing is being respected,” he argued. “There was also an intention to create highway-oriented, intensive uses and buildings that do take advantage of the travelling public on the TransCanada (Highway).”
Venner concluded by stating the Bingham Costco development would ultimately provide a benefit to the entire community once it was completed, by upgrading – out of its own pocket – Range Road 33 local access coming off of Highway 1, and by building pipeline infrastructure to connect the Bingham Crossing site with wastewater treatment services already existing in the nearby Harmony subdivision.
“Costco is bringing funding, private investments to this location to fund the transportation infrastructure,” he stated, “let alone the water and wastewater infracture, which will be sort of the catalyst for a future system [that is] going to expand and provide amenity and return on investment for the County, the province, and provide services and amenities in this community that are desperately needed.”
After Venner spoke, it fell to Jacqueline Targett, senior development and planning services officer with RVC, to defend the development authority’s approval of the Bingham Crossing Costco development permit, despite its divergence from the MDSP and Conceptual Scheme for the area approved by RVC council.
Targett once again reiterated that County planners felt – just as their legal representative Kelley Fiske-Neilsen of Brownlee LLP had argued during the March 30 hearing – that master site plans and conceptual schemes are non-statutory in nature, and it is only the underlying DC-148 designation that is binding.
In this case, Targett argued the flexibility within the Bingham Crossing DC-148 designation allowed for a broad interpretation of the will of council by RVC’s planners in the permit approved for Costco at that location.
“For clarity, council direction does not require that every element of the planning framework be scrupulously observed,” she argued. “Directions (from council) are distinguished from guidelines, and as such guidelines signal discretion.”
Targett then argued the development authority did its due diligence in approving the development permit for Costco, and did so by applying the discretion inherent to, and implied within, the wording of the underlying DC-148 designation approved by RVC council for the site.
“Administration has not failed in its development authority role,” she argued. “We diligently reviewed the entire framework, and nothing was ignored or disregarded, and all relevant positions have been properly captured.”
Appellant Denise Dancey was then given an opportunity to present her closing arguments, and respond to both the applicant and the development authority.
She argued RVC administration’s and the developer’s sophistry on the matter of how a development permit for Bingham Crossing could be approved that completely ignored the will of council (as laid out by its MSDP and approved Conceptual Scheme) amounted to nothing more than a “bait and switch”
“What you (SDAB members) and I can see at this point with Costco’s proposal is clearly not consistent with council directions,” she argued. “To overcome this reality, the County’s lawyers are now arguing that council’s directions do not really include the concept scheme and the Phase 2 Master Site Development Plan, and that council granted admin such broad discretion that they can ignore those documents at will.”
Co-appellant Jeffrey Tooth stopped short of calling these types of arguments a “bait and switch,” but he did remind SDAB members that if such arguments are accepted, it would set a “dangerous precedent” for the function of elected oversight of future developments within the county.
“The position of Brownlee (RVC’s attorney) is that (council plans) don’t matter,” he claimed. “That they are not statutory. Brownlee takes the position that MSDP and conceptual scheme need not be followed.”
Tooth added they further take the position that DC-148 can be open to wide interpretation.
“If this approach was upheld, in my opinion, this would nullify all plans for Bingham … Logically, if it can be applied to DC-148 and to Bingham, it could be applied anywhere in the municipal district,” he said. “This is a very dangerous precedent.”
After the applicant, development authority and appellants concluded their final arguments during the May 11 meeting, SDAB meeting chair Robert Doherty declared the public hearing closed.
SDAB members Doherty, Kerry Hubbauer, Dharminder Premi, Moire Dunn and Nick Wiebe will consider the arguments, and the submissions presented by all parties, and render a decision in writing before the end of May.