By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Although the infrastructure beneath its streets positions Morinville to provide water and sewer for a population of 30,000, a document worked on by the Town’s Planning and Development Department seeks to position the community to handle double its current population of approximately 8,500 residents.
Morinville’s Municipal Development Plan (MDP) was recently approved by the Capital Region Board (CRB), a government-sanctioned body of 25 municipalities in and around Edmonton that work on long-term planning for the region.
Morinville’s Director of Planning and Development, Greg Hofmann, said the CRB approval of the document allows the plan to return to the community for final approval. “It’s passed muster as far as the CRB is concerned,” Hofmann said, adding the document will go before a public hearing scheduled for Sept. 11, after which the document will be given second and third reading by Council the same evening.
Hofmann said the MDP is a solid document that is consistent with Morinville’s Municipal Sustainability Plan (MSP), a document that looks at Morinville’s needs and goals over a 35-year period. The document also ties in with Morinville’s Coeur de Morinville (downtown) Area Structure Plan and Highway 642 (100 Avenue) Functional Study.
“It’s going to set the framework for the other planning that we are engaged in,” Hofmann said. “When it sets the stage for those things, it’s good to have the base document in place. It will also give recognition to existing area structure plans so that they are now consistent with each other.”
Hofmann said the MDP is a significant achievement for the community as all the community’s planning and development policies and plans need to fit together.
Better use of tax dollars
The director said the MDP will benefit rate payers in one important aspect in that the document pushes for efficient growth and use of resources in the community. “There’s always two ways to reach efficiency – either to reduce costs or to increase revenue for the municipality,” Hofmann said. “The MDP will do both. It will reduce costs by not wasting infrastructure, not developing in areas out of sequence. It will also increase revenue by pushing for the non-residential growth in non-residential development, which is what we’re keen to do.”
Hofmann said the document also seeks to entrench some key concepts from the MSP, including the wise use of resources.
“It means an organized community, and it also creates the kind of certainty that investment requires,” Hofmann said of the potential economic development spin off of the plan. “In the end I think it means it’s an indication that Morinville has its act together as far as planning policy is concerned.”
Possible changes to CRB thinking
Hofmann said there is a two-fold meaning for the community in the document. In addition to positioning the town to adopt a sound development plan for the community, the CRB process has also opened some eyes to the growth realities in Morinville as well as causing it to examine some of its processes, something Hofmann believes will benefit other CRB communities.
“I believe it has put Morinville in a position of leadership, frankly, in terms of the region,” he said. “In getting it through the CRB, we had to make some interpretive arguments. We had to convince the CRB of certain things in its process that, in doing so, we believe other municipalities will benefit from that.”
Hofmann said Morinville has certain population and employment forecasts that the CRB has provided in the region’s growth plan, figures municipal documents are supposed to comply with. “The first time around, our document didn’t comply because Morinville, in actual fact, grew more historically than the projections indicated,” Hofmann explained. “Our argument is estimates and projections are planning tools. They’re not mandatory compliance goals. If Morinville doesn’t grow by a certain amount or grows more than that specified amount, that’s the measuring stick, and if you don’t meet those [numbers] you fail. Those estimates and forecasts in any field are tools. They’re not policy. They’re not end goals that you have to meet.”
The Director of Planning and Development said the purpose of the projections is to ensure a community is ready to handle water, sewer and other infrastructure needs should a community reach those population levels.
Hofmann said Morinville adjusted its MDP the second time it was presented to the CRB, but his department also provided a discussion document that tackled the projection issue head on. “We gave some really good interpretive arguments to kind of correct that impression and that interpretation of the CRB’s evaluation process,” Hofmann said. “I think they are in the process of amending those criteria and amending the growth plan. And I think the argument and the work Morinville did in having to get its plan through is going to benefit others coming behind us, and it’s actually going to enlighten and inform the review process the CRB is doing itself, in my opinion.”
Possible shift in Morinville’s designation
Under current CRB positions, Morinville, despite a 25 per cent growth in population over the past half-decade, is not in a designated priority growth area. However, infrastructure to accommodate a population of 30,000 does meet the CRB criteria.
“One of the important foundations of that growth plan is that municipalities who have capacity to grow should be growing,” Hofmann explained. “Morinville does have capacity. We’ve had that capacity for a long time.”
Although the community has a plan in the works to deal with double its population and infrastructure capacity for almost four times its population, there is no certainty Morinville will continue to see the population swelling of the past five or six years. The community has historically seen periods of great growth followed by long periods of stagnant plateaus, a situation that has existed since its formation a century ago.
Hofmann said he did not know if the recent work Morinville presented to the CRB will ultimately put Morinville on the map as a priority growth area [PGA] or if it will cause a re-evaluation of those areas down the road in a future review of the Capital Growth Plan.
“It [Morinville] currently is not in a PGA,” he said. “There are advantages and disadvantages, pros and cons to being within a PGA or not. It currently isn’t, but that needs to be examined and see where that process goes.”
Wherever the process goes, Hofmann said he believes things will be different at the CRB in the future with respect to Morinville. “Our picture is much clearer than it was when the first growth plan was in place,” he said. “There is a greater understanding of Morinville. There’s been a lot more analysis in this MDP as to where Morinville has been and where it could be heading in terms of its most recent growth.”