Recently there was a media release by Leduc County and the City of Edmonton that reported they had met on Friday, May 22 to further annexation negotiations and the two committees continue to seek clarification in order to develop a common understanding of the information.
A recent announcement by the Edmonton Police Services (EPS) in their 2016-18-business plan indicated the need for additional EPS officers to serve the annexation area brought concern to Leduc County residents and officials. Edmonton’s Mayor Don Iveson clarified that the plan identified the potential need for additional EPS officers would be required to replace RCMP officers currently serving the proposed annexation area. That it would be up to Edmonton city council to determine the timing and resource requirements.
Some of the reasons presented by Edmonton city as to why their annexation proposal concentrates entirely on Leduc County is that in recent years 85 per cent of Edmonton’s growth has been south of the North Saskatchewan River and over 45 per cent of that growth has been just north of Leduc County. Another factor is that major communities like St. Albert, Sherwood Park, Spruce Grove and Fort Saskatchewan or major facilities like the Canadian Forces base or industrial parks to the north, east, and west, have hemmed Edmonton and make it very difficult for the city to expand in those directions leaving Leduc County the easiest area to seek annexation.
Currently the growth of the Nisku and Leduc industrial parks have driven much of Edmonton’s growth on the south side, but the future development of Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Park could result in a similar growth in Edmonton’s northeast. In fact it is already happening as the new shopping center along Manning Drive is but one example of that growth.
Another justification Edmonton provides is that their proposal is not out of line with similar successful annexations by other cities. They like to use percentages instead of actual hectares. If a city that is small in size like Leduc city completes an annexation the percentage will seem large to its previous size: hence, using a percentage comparison makes Edmonton’s proposed annexation bid appear reasonable.
The fact is Edmonton is already the second largest city by square kilometers in the country with 684 square kilometers; only Calgary is larger. Edmonton towers over Vancouver in land size and is over 50 kilometers larger than our nation’s largest city Toronto. When one compares density Edmonton has the third lowest number of people per square kilometer, behind only Winnipeg and Calgary. Even New York City, North America’s largest city, has only 100 more square kilometers of usable space than Edmonton. Of course no one wishes New York’s density on anyone.
No one is denying that there may be a need for Edmonton to grow, but that growth must be balanced. We are already seeing, with the billions of dollars being put into Edmonton’s downtown and the completion of the Pearl Tower, that that growth could be up rather than out. Having its entire annexation request directed at Edmonton’s southern borders appears to be more of a tax grab than a plan for proportional growth. Reaching 35 kilometers to the Edmonton International Airport (EIA) and including the northern portion of the Nisku Industrial Park is nothing more than an attempt by Edmonton to decrease its assessment ratio between residential and non-residential property. When you consider that much of the residential land within the annexation proposal lies within one of the EIA’s current flight paths and EIA’s future third runway, which could negatively affect residential development, lends credibility to the belief this is more than just a need for more residential space.
Edmonton obviously looks at surrounding neighbors with envy as they see their neighbors’ good planning has resulted in a much higher ratio of income from non-residential sources than residential. Fort Saskatchewan and Strathcona County are near a 50/50 ratio and Leduc County’s long range planning has resulted in a 2 to 1 ratio in favor of non-residential. Meanwhile Edmonton and Calgary ratios are 3 to 1 in favor of residential assessment.
In the Seventies Leduc County had the foresight to establish Nisku Industrial Park and today over 600 companies have made a home at the park. The City and County of Leduc have together commissioned a viability study to explore what an aerotropolis can offer. No ground has been broken and the study is still ongoing.
There seems to be an attitude by Edmonton city council that the EIA is the city’s airport and it should be part of Edmonton. What seems to be missed is when Edmonton shut down the city airport it turned the international airport from a municipal airport into a regional airport. In fact the airport and the federal government should consider changing its name to the Edmonton Regional International Airport to reflect the service the EIA truly provides to northern Alberta.
There is a concern that with the newly elected government having absorbed all 19 Edmonton MLAs that the lone representative from the Leduc/Beaumont electoral district will be outmanned when and if a decision is made at the cabinet level concerning Edmonton’s annexation proposal. When this proposal reaches the Alberta cabinet, as it surely will, we would hope the new government brings a fresh set of eyes and ideas in resolving the issue. Let’s hope they accept a concept similar to Metro Vancouver where 23 local authorities work together to deliver services and sets policy for the entire area and improves the current Capital Regional Board to allow the surrounding communities to grow and proposer without fear of being swallowed up by their bigger neighbor.
In the meantime the Leduc County’s Intermunicipal Liason Committee of Mayor John Whaley and councillors Clay Stumph, John Schonewille and Tanni Doblanko will continue to digest Edmonton’s annexation proposal and seek a settlement that is fair to both municipalities and not the “all or none” stand that Edmonton currently holds.
The next scheduled negotiation session with the City of Edmonton’s Negotiation Committee composed of Mayor Don Iveson, and councillors Bryan Anderson, Ed Gibbons and Michael Walters will be held on Friday, July 10.