WESTLOCK – Work has started on updating Westlock County’s land-use bylaw (LUB) and municipal development plan (MDP), documents the CAO says need to be “cleaner and more development friendly” to encourage growth.
At their Jan. 17 committee of the whole (COW) meeting, councillors spent close to 40 minutes listening to a “high-level overview” from Municipal Planning Services principal and senior planner Jane Dauphinee on the 18-month process to replace the aging documents which she called two of the most important all municipalities have and incorporate components of strategic plans, economic development goals and intermunicipal development plans “to ensure they’re tools to help you move forward in the direction you want to go.”
“Parts of it are really, really interesting and fun and parts of it are really, really dry and boring and I promise to try and direct the really boring stuff to administration and bring the things that are most key and most important for council to be directly involved in to you,” said Dauphinee on the review of the LUB.
Both county documents were last updated in 2016 and normally have a shelf life of 10 years, said Dauphinee, noting it takes up to a year and a half to go through the entire process. She also said there’s been “significant changes” to provincial legislation so “it’s time to rework the documents so they reflect what the legislative requirements are now.”
“So, administration has brought this forward at the right time to ensure that by the time we get through the process you’ll have up-to-date documents that are consistent with the 10-year timeframe you want to achieve,” she said. “Also, going through the document now gives us the opportunity to look at the current demographics and ensure what we’re planning for moving forward is consistent with what to expect or anticipate your demographic needs to be.”
In a follow-up interview Jan. 18, CAO Tony Kulbisky agreed and said despite the length of time it will take and the work involved, it will be well worth it for the future of the county as one of the goals will be to reduce any “red tape” in the development process. Dauphinee said they’ll follow a three-phase process which starts with them gathering information over the first six months, then transition to crafting the documents over the next six months and ends with their adoption over the final two to three months.
“The reality is this simple, that growth in this community comes from attracting development, industrial and residential. And if we don’t do that we’ll be in the same position five years from now, 10 years from now and 20 years from now,” said Coun. Stuart Fox Robinson.
Council, along with admin, will ultimately be tasked with identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the current MDP and LUB and provide “guidance on the county’s preferred approach to key land use and development activities” and also “carefully consider feedback from the public and agencies” while giving input into the new documents.
“If there are things in there (the LUB and MDP) that are preventing or stymieing development in the county … it’s one thing to make the tax-rate structure more attractive, but you have to make sure the rules of engagement are a lot cleaner and more development friendly, so if they’re not those are things we have to address as well,” said Kulbisky. “If we get these things figured out relatively quickly, we see growth and development in the county.”
And while councillors are looking forward to the new documents, they also recommended that administration come back with any amendments or “low hanging fruit” to the current one to help streamline the process — planning and community services director Laurie Strutt vowed to have some back “in a couple of weeks.”
“We have to make amendments because some of the complaints that I hear is that it takes too long as there are extra steps that we probably don’t need,” said Coun. Sherri Provencal.
“If there are some low-hanging fruit that we can deal with via land-use bylaw amendments prior to waiting for the new document to roll out in the next year … if we can do that in the interim, then I think council is open to doing that to try to encourage more growth and development happening here, which is good news,” added Kulbisky.