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Off-grid community zapped by county councillors

Posted on April 27, 2023 by Ryan Dahlman

By Collin Gallant

Southern Alberta Newspapers

A proposal by doctors to create a “green” county subdivision centred around a new medical clinic south of Medicine Hat city limits has been rejected by Cypress County council, but the plan could be moved and repurposed further into the countryside, according to the applicant.

Dr. Adriaan Kriel owns land one mile south of Southridge Drive, and leads a group that would layout 20 lots, each 1.5 acres in size, with plans to install septic tanks, solar and geothermal energy production, and even underground vertical greenhouses for food production.

That would attract new doctors to the area from major cities and would not be out of step with rural environment, he told a public hearing to rezone the land on Range Road 60.

However, county councillors ruled the project is out of step with neighbouring acreages and would run contrary to complex development rules for the area developed in conjunction with the City of Medicine Hat.

“I like the concept, but the Intermunicipal Development Plan is what it is,” said Coun. Dustin Vossler. “If the city grows (southward), then it’s non-conforming.”

The idea for the subdivision, built on a long-rectangular parcel that comprises 25 per cent of a quarter-section, across from Kappler Dairy, has passed back and forth between city and county planners and the applicant group for about a year.

Kriel sees it as a major attraction to draw new physicians to the area (lots would be offered at discount to new partners), and it would provide access to a family doctor to all county residents in a geographic area.

If the zoning application, from general agriculture to limited country residential zone, failed, said Kriel, he would resubmit it on 120 acres of land he owned further away from city limits.

“If we can’t shift the city’s position we will pursue it elsewhere,” stated a group spokesman. “We’re looking self sufficient for food production and will operate off grid for significant amounts of time.”

“It’s not a standard land-use amendment, we realize, and there are hurdles to resolve, but the hope is to move it forward.”

The city and county currently consider land development in the area (between S. Boundary Road and Township Road 120) as a future growth area of Cypress County, and a matter of joint interest in the Intermunicipal Development Agreement.

That decade-old agreement limits the intensity of new uses in order to keep low-intensity agricultural and to avoid potential conflict with larger proposals in the future.

Each party is afforded comments on developments in order to prevent piecemeal development, avoid one-off utility hook-ups and infrastructure to relatively remote parcels.

“It’s very short sighted because it’s so close to Medicine Hat, and it’s a short-term problem,” said Kriel.

“We all know what will happen when the city builds out (to the south). We’re attempting to maintain the rural character for when that happens. There’s no point maintaining agricultural aspects of land so close to the city. It’s a very good development.”

The site is located one mile south of S. Boundary Road on Range Road 60 (which becomes Southridge Drive at Medicine Hat city limits), and is not the subject of any current development plan or proposal.

But, the city officially opposed the development under the terms of the IDP, despite lobbying to the Medicine Hat city council and, according to the group, the support of provincial government officials looking at health-care worker attraction.

A letter in support was written by Alberta Health official Yusef Mohammed, stating the proposal was encouraging considering the Ministry plans to update primary care coverage, and further cited Health Minister Jason Copping’s knowledge of the plan.

Beyond the clinic, plans to build a 20-lot subdivision, each with a water cistern and septic field, and be designed to include space for a secondary suites residence, were opposed by adjacent landowner Cam Barbour, whose letter was co-signed by 10 nearby residents, citing traffic concerns, intensity of use and land size compared to use.

“It’s too big to be an acreage and too small to be a farm,” said Barbour at the April 18 hearing. “Using septic fields creates a huge red flag,”

Coun. Robin Kurpjuweit said he liked the general idea, but the opposition of neighbours “is a cause for concern.”

“It’s very much a hamlet layout in an area that is not looking for densification,” he said.

Coun. Richard Oster said the area is sought after for development, but the longer-term implications must be considered.

“It opens the door to a large amount of requests in the area,” said Oster. “That has the potential to disrupt development if there are a lot of these isolated hamlet (styled communities).”

In official correspondence, the city’s planning department’s stated its position is the land doesn’t meet size requirements or envisioned use.

County planners said it runs contrary to its rules that agricultural land should in general not become fragmented, and more specifically, irrigated land should not be subdivided.

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