Big Hill Lodge. Big Hill Towing. Big Hill Cycle. Big Hill Haven Women’s Shelter. There’s a reason Cochranites get daily reminders of this stunning natural feature: The Big Hill is iconic—it’s a part of who we are.
While the hill itself defines our landscape, many residents are unaware that its designation as a green space is under threat. Around 70 years ago, the Franciscan order took possession of the south facing shoulder of the Big Hill. Currently, they are proposing an area structure plan (ASP) which includes approximately 475 residences within the 158 acres. The ASP is open for citizen engagement until June 30.
If the proposed developments were to go ahead, we lose the legacy we could pass to future generations for a residential development that the town can’t support—and doesn’t need.
Urban planning is a balancing act: Multiple stakeholders, risks, and rewards must be carefully weighed. But in the case of the Big Hill, the costs clearly outweigh the benefits on both practical and philosophical levels. As citizens of Cochrane and Rockyview County, we’re concerned that in developing the hill, our community stands to lose far more than it would gain.
The most basic question here is, is developing this hill necessary to accommodate Cochrane’s projected population? While pursuing growth for growth’s sake is tempting, the answer is unequivocally no. According to the Town’s own Growth Management Strategy, we already have more than enough land we need to accommodate our growing population until 2062; in fact, at least seven neighbourhoods are not yet fully built out, and these residents are still waiting for their promised services under existing ASPs.
Significantly, Cochrane’s water license—the agreement that dictates how much water we’re legally allowed to divert from the Bow River—is not even enough for that projected population, let alone any unplanned developments. In fact, we’ve already nearly reached our water limit, and the development proposal fails to explain how they’d get around this stark fact.
Also unexplained is how this development would avoid the same kind of erosion that has been causing Gleneagles residents so much distress—and the Town and its tax-payers so much money and heartache. Analysis suggests that the same swelling clay soils extend to the Big Hill as well, though the Franciscans have reportedly declined to release their geotechnical report.
The Big Hill has been identified by the 2012 Open Spaces Plan and Provincial Environmentally Significant Areas project (Government of Alberta, 2014) as a local environmentally significant area because of its biodiversity, native grasslands, and the valuable habitat it provides to many species of wildlife. As a result of extensive public engagements and debates, the Big Hill was deliberately protected in the statutory Municipal Development Plan (MDP), which contains the strategic vision for the town. This proposal is counter to that policy and would put the Big Hill at risk.
Imagine if Calgary’s communities didn’t have the fight or the vision to preserve Nose Hill from development in the 1970s. If this proposal gets the green light from council, we stand to lose what we love about this iconic area—and we’d never get it back.
To have your say on the current ASP, go to www.mountstfrancis70years.ca/south-lands by June 30; we encourage you to read through the information on the site, complete the survey, and write your concerns into the comments section.
Brianna Sharpe is an educator and writer. Peggy Holroyd is a registered professional planner (RPP).