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Seniors' housing complex clears key hurdle

County Council unanimously approved the rezoning of farmland to allow construction of a rural senior housing complex, June 1.

County Council unanimously approved the rezoning of farmland to allow construction of a rural senior housing complex, June 1.

Hunt Coulee Ranch Retirement Community will provide age-in-place independent and assisted living for ages 55 and older in a country setting. It will be located north of Big Hill Springs Road in the Lochend area.

About 40 people attended the public hearing, with the overwhelming majority speaking in favour of the project.

“We are ecstatic about this,” said Sue Wood, Western Rocky View Communities Development Society (CDS) chair. “Rocky View is obviously open to things that perhaps aren’t in their policies right now because they see the need and appreciate the grassroots effort.”

Ruth Hunt, 92, donated a quarter section of land for the community. About 45 acres will be used for the complex, while the remainder will be set aside as agricultural conservation land.

“It was my parents nature to help others and they did so in so many ways all of their lives,” said Kay Smith, Ruth Hunt’s daughter.

CDS formed the Rural Seniors Housing project, a community-led initiative to develop a non-profit facility in 2006, after two years of consultation with rural seniors.

For the past three years, the group has been working towards a housing complex in the greater rural Bearspaw/Lochend area northwest of Calgary. The group has logged more than 8,000 hours of volunteer work and has received more than $200,000 in contributions from private, corporate and community agencies.

A 2007 proposal for senior housing in Bragg Creek was rejected.

Currently, much of the region’s aging population is forced to leave the community to find housing in urban centres.

“There is such a need for seniors home for us all,” said Gertie Hawkwood, who has lived in the Bearspaw region for more than 80 years. “It is a fact that we just need this place where we would all be with people we know.”

The proposal includes a community centre, accessible walking paths and no more than 100 housing units. However, firm plans are not in place as technical studies for water, wastewater and traffic have yet to be completed.

The location falls outside of lands designated as population nodes in the Growth Management Study.

Some concerns were raised about cost, location, servicing, traffic and the size of the facility.

“It (the proposal) is very light on technical and very heavy on vision,” said Councillor Paul McLean. “Maybe having the land donated will offset costs, but we want to have it be sustainable. The vision is great but we also want to have people living there.”

The group will begin conducting technical studies immediately in order to present its final plans to council.

Whatever the outcome, Reeve Lois Habberfield is confident the project will proceed.

“I don’t know how we could say no to this project, given the need for senior’s housing,” said Habberfield.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to provide a place where seniors could look forward to living out their sunset years, instead of dreading them? As for technical matters, if we can find the means to put people in a space station, surely to goodness we can find the means to have water and sewer.”

This proposal may be just the first of several for Rocky View as several other groups including Chestermere, Bragg Creek and Springbank, have shown an interest in the CDS model.

“This is a groundbreaking time in terms of Rocky View’s approach,” said Woods. “This is not just a Bearspaw Community project, this is a growing trend. I see this as being pivotal.”

Airdrie Today Staff

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