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Regional focus ramped up in Alta. land-use plan

The final version of Alberta’s new Land-Use Framework now calls for legislation on regional land-use planning, as well as a seventh planning region and a strategy for efficient use of land.

The provincial government on Wednesday rolled out its final framework, which follows months of consultations and feedback after the province released a first draft in May.

Workbook surveys and stakeholder meetings, plus a series of meetings with the province’s Aboriginal communities, led to the addition of a new “Efficient Use of Land” strategy.

That strategy calls for the province to propose and implement strategies to reduce the environmental footprint on public and private lands. “It is the underlying principle that will guide all land-use planning and decision-making on both public and private land,” the province said.

To that end, the province said it will work with municipalities, industry and stakeholders toward goals such as “minimizing” the amount of land used for residential, commercial and industrial development; higher-density redevelopment opportunities; “innovative technologies” to reduce impacts of new development; and directing development to where existing infrastructure is already in place.

The revised Land-Use Framework also renames the six proposed planning regions, which the province said will better reflect the integration between land use and watershed planning.

The northern, northwestern, northeastern, north-central, south-central and southern regions proposed in May are now the Lower Peace, Upper Peace, Lower Athabasca, Upper Athabasca, North Saskatchewan and South Saskatchewan regions.

But some of those six will also change to include a seventh: the Red Deer region. The province said the extra region will “better address southern Alberta’s significant population, its number and size of municipalities, and the diversity of its landscapes.”

Regional plans

The Land-Use Framework commits the province to develop regional plans for these seven regions, with the help of regional advisory councils of 10-14 members each, drawn from provincial and local government, industry, Aboriginal communities and other non-governmental groups.

The terms of reference for regional plans will set out requirements for consultation and the review of draft plans, the province said. The regional advisory councils will operate only for as long as it takes to develop the regional plans. The province has made a goal of completing all seven plans by the end of 2012.

Five priorities in the final Land-Use Framework include introducing legislation to support the framework; completion and implementation of metropolitan plans for the Capital (Edmonton) and Calgary regions; completion of the Lower Athabasca Plan; and the South Saskatchewan Plan.

“Fragmentation”

The framework also makes it provincial policy to “determine more effective approaches to reduce the fragmentation and conversion of agricultural land.”

In a 2002 report on the topic, the province found it had lost relatively little farmland on a net basis, but also noted the farmland converted to other uses, such as residential lots, is often of high capability for annual and horticultural crops. Meanwhile, land being brought into ag production is lower-quality and better suited to forage and pasture.

By “fragmentation,” the province refers to farmland that’s subdivided for country residential development, creating fragmented areas where it can become difficult or dangerous to move ag equipment or cattle along local roads.

Such developments also create more traffic moving at higher speeds and can lead to a litany of nuisance complaints from new neighbours objecting to what are considered normal farming practices, the province observed.

But the province also noted in its 2002 report that farmers’ option to subdivide or sell fragments of their land — especially as land prices climb and farmers near retirement age — is considered a “right” that many farmers would oppose if it were removed.

All that said, the province emphasized Wednesday that one of the guiding principles of the framework will be that land-use decisions “respect the laws of property ownership.”

Municipalities control the subdivision of land and landowners can only subdivide with municipal approval, the province said. But the regional plans under the Land-Use Framework “will set the context for these decisions in the future and could identify areas where the fragmentation and the loss of agricultural land needs to be addressed.”

The province said Wednesday it will support the development of “market-based incentives to encourage private landowners to help achieve conservation goals.” Private landowners would thus see some monetary benefit for preserving the ecological goods on their land, the province said.

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