Annexation Vexation

Lorna Lowe
The Pipestone Flyer
    
    Leduc - Things got a little heated at the annexation informational meeting hosted by the City of Edmonton at RedTail Landing Golf Course on the evening of November 18th. 
    Over 100 people packed the room to hear the two presentations planned for the night. Both presentations were giving out the same information with the timing staggered by an hour to ensure those people who could not make it until later did not miss anything.
Originally the presentations were going to be given by the Manager of Urban Planning and Environment for the City of Edmonton, Peter Ohm, but he was stuck in traffic and was only able to make it for the second presentation. 
    As residents and concerned business owners entered the room they were greeted by a series of informational boards with Edmonton City staffers placed at each display in order to answer questions. The displays included maps of the proposed annexation area, the next steps of the annexation proposal itself, numbers showing the differences in taxation rates between the County of Leduc and City of Edmonton, and boards to encourage people to paste on their sticky note questions, amongst others.
    Everyone was also greeted by a couple of members of a newly formed group of County business owners and residents calling themselves the "Leduc County Coalition" who are opposed to the annexation proposal. To their benefit the City of Edmonton made no attempt to stop the LCC from handing out their information at the meeting or asking questions during the Q & A sessions.
At 6pm everyone was asked to take a seat and the emcee for the evening explained that the purpose of this meeting was to share information during the "early days" of the annexation proposal. It was also stated that the City of Edmonton "...wants to hear your questions."
    Then Mr. Gord Jackson, Director of Regional Planning for the City of Edmonton came to the podium to begin the first presentation. He said that the City was there that night to "...start a longer discussion as this process can take a number of years." He then thanked the Leduc County representatives in the audience; Mayor Whaley and Councillors Stumph and Schonewille, along with County Manager Brian Bowles and the head of Long Range Planning, Phil Newman, for attending.   
    Gord continued on by saying that "There are some things we have the answers to now but other things we will be working with the County on over time." He then posed the question "Why are we doing an annexation?" and answered it from the City of Edmonton's point of view. He said that the City of Edmonton had been experiencing rapid growth over the last several years and they are now looking at the next 50 years of future growth. "In some areas of the City we are not totally uncomfortable with our land supply," admitted Gord, "but in the south we are hitting levels of supply, depending on what timelines you are looking at, (for this portion of the presentation the City was looking at the next 12 years) we are in a precarious situation for housing supply. This area has been designated a priority growth area by the CRB Growth Plan and this is more or less why we are planning this annexation."
    At this point Gord stressed that they have no plans to attempt to annex the City of Leduc, to which an audience member shouted "Yet!", which drew a slight chuckle from the crowd. That chuckle abruptly changed to an uncomfortable murmur when Gord responded with the statement, "Well the City of Leduc may decide to amalgamate with us."
    A few of the promises from Edmonton that were made during the presentation included no freezes for business development, a taxation adjustment period of up to 15 years for residents and businesses in the affected areas, and no changes to the service levels in the annexation area. In a strange twist, immediately following these promises Gord stated that through all of these changes Leduc County "...will continue to do the excellent job that they do."
As his closing statements Gord said that "Our obligation is to find out what your concerns are and to find resolutions." He informed all present that there would be further informational meetings hosted in the spring and that any questions could also be emailed to annexation@edmonton.ca.
    Once the formal presentation was finished the floor was opened up for questions and a number of hands shot into the air. Edmonton staffers were peppered with questions asking about residential density in Edmonton, urban sprawl, growing up as opposed to out, infill, the amount of currently owned undeveloped land, and one of the biggest concerns, property taxes. Very few of the questions were answered directly and several people were told they would be spoken to privately at a later time to receive their answers, and some questions never received an answer at all.
    As this process continued it was obvious from the increasingly aggressive comments from the crowd which included references to land grabs, and "getting their stakes in the ground before anyone else" that the feelings in the room were predominantly anti-Edmonton. However, it was at the point when the emcee attempted to stem the Q & A session in order to begin the second presentation that people got a little upset. One gentleman in the audience loudly told the emcee "Don't cut us off! This is the only time we are getting any answers from you guys!" It was at this time a couple of security guards quietly appeared to stand at the door of the room. 
    The Q & A was allowed to continue for longer than planned which pushed back the 7:00pm presentation until 7:25 but this gave Mr. Peter Ohm time to arrive and conduct the next one. The second presentation went smoother with people gradually drifting out of the meeting and very few questions remaining to be taken at the end of the night.
    In speaking with one resident it does appear that rate payers' fears of a huge residential tax hike are well founded. 
    Mr. Norm Helm still owns property within the last area to be annexed by the City of Edmonton which took place in 1982. Norm originally owned and farmed a quarter section (160 acres) in the County of Leduc with 8 acres subdivided on the property which held his house and all his outbuildings. After the annexation Norm sold off the bulk of his farm but kept his home and eight acres on which he still resides. "When I owned the full quarter I paid about $400.00/year in property taxes." stated Norm. "Now, with only eight acres left I pay just over $6,000.00/year and none of the services I receive have ever changed."
    It is anticipated that this process will be entering into negotiations and remain unresolved for several years. The Pipestone Flyer will continue to keep Leduc and County up to date with any new information or upcoming events as they are released. For up to the moment information please follow us on Twitter @Pipestoneflyer. 

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