To what extent Cochrane will continue to grow over the next few years is not now as easy to predict as it was just a few months ago.
For some time now, Calgary has seen rapid growth and has had to scramble to develop an adequate amount of housing and housing types to accommodate an influx of employment seekers in Canada’s economic capital, but with the recent drop in oil prices, many of the energy companies that were driving that boom have been forced to lay off many workers and enact several budget cuts to make ends meet.
In a nutshell, the energy boom, at least for the time being, has been brought to a halt.
The Royal Bank of Canada has said Ontario, which hasn’t led the country in economic growth in 15 years, would see a 3.3 per cent increase for 2015 and 2.7 per cent for 2016. Alberta on the other hand, will only see its economy grow .6 per cent this year, and will be forced to endure a $7 billion budget shortfall in the 2015/16 fiscal year.
It has been projected by economist Douglas Porter that Ontario and British Columbia will via for top spot as Canada’s economic growth leader this year.
Alberta’s economy grew by 3.9 per cent in 2014, and over the past 20 years has led all provinces with an average of 3.5 per cent growth each year.
One economist even said Canada has a 30 per cent chance of seeing a recession.
There have also been several predictions that the price of oil could return to $60-$70 a barrel sometime this year, which could change the entire landscape of what is currently happening in Alberta.
So, what does all this mean for Cochrane’s projected growth?
Town administration and council certainly don’t approve development based on what’s happening at the moment; their vision certainly reaches further into the future than that. So to say that Cochrane should make a rash decision and put the brakes on all their plans would likely not be the best approach.
Council was privy to a rather extensive notice of motion document on community enhancements, within which the issue of housing densities is addressed.
As mentioned above with regards to Calgary, Cochrane too has been faced with rapid growth over the past decade – much of the reason being the ‘great migration’ to Alberta, particularly Calgary, and people who work in Calgary wanting to live in a smaller town on the outskirts – and has had to develop enough housing units and types to accommodate.
As part of the Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP), Cochrane has adhered to the required eight to 10 units per acre for residential homes, but specify in this community enhancements document that this is a ‘guideline only.’
Building higher-density housing types is an excellent way for a community to offer more affordable housing to its residents, which Cochrane is in desperate need of.
There must also, however, be homes for those who want a back and front yard, garage, driveway and not be on top of or sharing a wall with their rowdy neighbours.
In the community enhancements document, it specifies that if Cochrane were to implement a six units per acre policy, there would be a need for 1,568 hectares of land, up from the current 1,321 hectares for eight to 10 units.
It also raises the possibilities of either re-evaluating the town’s commitment to the CRP and/or annexing more land to accommodate growth.
It goes without saying that if the town turned its back on the CRP and its eight to 10 units per acre model, there would be implications – would not qualify for regional wastewater servicing from Calgary, may not be eligible for certain provincial funding and Cochrane would become even more spread out than it already is.
The town’s current policy does state that they would ensure new subdivisions would meet a residential development level of 19.8 units per hectare, or eight per acre, throughout the town.
On the other hand, the notice of motion presented to council said the ‘big picture’ was to look at the town as a whole, and determine which areas best suited high-density housing and which were better off with lower-density housing.
There are several benefits to rapid growth – increased tax dollars, more money for infrastructure, better economy – and there are challenges – housing options, availability and costs, burdens on current infrastructure, constant need to upgrade.
With Cochrane’s geographical landscape – rolling hills, Bow River, CP Rail tracks – and being at the mercy of two provincial highways under Alberta’s authority, it’s inevitable that Cochrane will continue to grow and expand, and there must be a variety of home for those people to live in.
We can’t all live in a townhouse and park on the road, and we can’t all live (or should we say ‘afford’) in a single-family home with a nice, big backyard…but the option needs to be there.
And if there is anything hindering the town from offering that option, they should question why.