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Residents voice concerns over Exshaw Mountain Gateway project

“I know it is something that I have seen in your presentation, but I do want to know more about you can bring to the community as a whole in terms of affordability.”
The Exshaw Mountain Gateway public hearing on Oct. 24, 2022.

EXSHAW – A long-discussed development plan in Exshaw had its first of three public hearings that saw significant interest from residents.

The Municipal District of Bighorn hosted the first public hearing on Oct. 24 regarding the Exshaw Mountain Gateway project to get public input on the area structure plan (ASP) after first reading was given in September.

Adam Linnard said he was against the development as currently proposed, but added he was in favour of housing that supports families. His main concern was the impact on wildlife and the affordability of the development.

“The question is how do we get that and how we are going to achieve that?,” Linnard said. “We are among the least affordable places to live in the country and we are simultaneously fracturing one of the most important landscapes for wildlife connectivity on the continent. Those are not small concerns.”

Sue Alridge echoed Linnard's concerns, she was not entirely opposed to the development noting, “I think my biggest concern is that we don’t have a permanent CAO and this is the biggest development to happen in Exshaw since I have lived here [for] 24 years.".

She raised a concern regarding flooding, a consistent issue in East Exshaw.

“We have unmitigated groundwater issues still and I am worried the next development will make that worse.”

As part of the hearing, 11 letters or emails were submitted. Of those, four opposed the development, while seven were in favour.

Cam Baty, co-owner of the Rocky Mountain Soap Company, said his company employs about 100 people in the valley and offers the possibility of much needed housing.

“In my opinion, this new development will be great for the many young families working with us and for the general community,” his letter stated. “The valley needs more affordable lots for families to settle as well as some more multiplex units.”

The project is planned for the north and east side of Exshaw and includes 25 to 30 single detached and duplex lots, six to eight ridge lots, one mountain lot and two multi-dwelling lots with approximately 15 units total.

The parcel of land – purchased in December 2018 – covers 35.2 hectares (87 acres), of which 4.6 hectares (11.3 acres) are in the hamlet boundary. It is expected it will increase the population of the MD by 130 people.

Greg Birch, with Birch Consulting, spoke on behalf of the developer and said 12 engineering and environmental studies were conducted, totalling 968 pages reviewed by the MD. They also held open houses in June 2019 and March 2022, and conducted a survey in June and July 2019.

“The area has been cited for development for 30 years, so we are consistent with the municipal development plan,” Birch said. “The ASP is research and study-based, community-focused, descriptive and prescriptive in policies.”

Coun. Joss Elford asked about the impact on groundwater during the hearing.

“You said the flow is more to the east. I think that one of the biggest concerns, is the groundwater situation in East Exshaw,” Elford said. “Is there a concern that building up your lands, that is going to increase the groundwater to Pigeon?”

Birch said previous projects by the developer have never had the groundwater rise in response to a raised grade. In the ASP presentation, it was noted the plan integrates with the overland and groundwater drainage goals of the MD, improves protection from extreme overland flood events from Jura Creek, and will have no negative impact on groundwater elevations.

Birch said the elevation of the lower 2.4 hectares (six acres) would be elevated to the designated drive in response to a question from Coun. Alice James on the elevation of the roads.

“Heart Mountain Drive, as it currently is paved and graded, would be ramped up into the subdivision to that level,” Birch said.

Lisa Rosvold, reeve of Bighorn, raised issues of affordable housing and how it would be incorporated into the development.

“I know it is something that I have seen in your presentation, but I do want to know more about, you can bring to the community as a whole in terms of affordability.”

Birch said the plan allows for different housing styles, but exact lot prices have not been determined yet.

“That was part of the two multi-family [homes] that could allow for a townhouse-style development and seeking the RM zoning that would allow suites.”

Two more public hearings regarding amendments to the land use bylaw and Municipal Development Plan will be held on Nov. 3 at 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.