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Bearspaw residents rally to oppose new development proposal

“It’s quite out of character for this community and for the area,” a member of the group said.

A group of Bearspaw residents has some major concerns with a new development proposal in their neck of the woods.

The group, which is comprised of residents and families and dubbed “Protecting Bearspaw,” is on a mission to preserve the rural character of their acreage community in Rocky View County.

They recently launched a website to spread awareness of their cause and to voice their opposition to the “Ascension Land Use Redesignation Proposal” from Highfield Land Management, a subsidiary of Highland Land Development.

According to a press release issued by the group, the developer is proposing a land use redesignation for a 275-acre development that includes residences and a shopping mall, which the group is claiming would be larger than northwest Calgary’s Market Mall.

“Protecting Bearspaw opposed the development because there is no need for high-density homes and the logical extension is to maintain the community and area character of local communities,” stated the press release.

“The massive shopping centre is large enough to create approximately 5,500 parking stalls, 1.3 million square feet of retail [space] and 300 retail stores.”

The proposed property development is located on the southwest corner of the interchange of 12 Mile Coulee Road and Crowchild Trail, just outside Calgary’s city limits and border with Rocky View County.

Proposed access to the development is located off Blueridge Rise and Bearspaw Road – roadways that are designed for low levels of traffic in acreage communities, according to the group.

One of the group’s main concerns is the increased traffic that would come with such a development in the future.

“Traffic volumes on these roads will substantially increase as compared to current levels, create congestion, and further disrupt a peaceful rural environment,” the release continued.

“The scale of development impacts community safety, creates air, noise, and light pollution, impacts wildlife and green spaces, and will overload schools that are already at capacity.”

Currently, Bearspaw offers a country residential lifestyle and features dispersed residential acreage parcels. The land plots follow the existing slope of the land, space, and distance between houses, privacy, quiet, wildlife, and dark skies, according to Brent Fermaniuk, a Bearspaw resident and Protecting Bearspaw committee member.

In an interview, he argued the Highfield development proposal is “incompatible and unaligned” with Bearspaw’s existing communities. He called it a “fundamentally flawed” project.

“We are determined to advocate for responsible and sustainable development that respects the unique qualities of our communities,” he said.

“It’s quite out of character for this community and for the area.”

According to the acreage community advocate, the Protect Bearspaw group is looking to advocate for and support “reasonable, sustainable development that respects the unique qualities” of their community.

“We oppose the proposal as it stands, because we think it will alter our fabric of our community and also the balance between what the existing community has currently … and the natural environment that we moved out to the rural to enjoy,” he said.

Fermaniuk recalled the development project first went to public consultation in 2017 as a conceptual scheme proposal, and despite vocal opposition from the community and formal letters of opposition, Rocky View County council approved the proposal in a 6-3 vote on Sept. 21, 2021.

“I went to the hearing and submitted videos of opposition – it seemed to have been accepted and approved for whatever reason,” he shared.

Representatives from the developer did not respond to a request for an interview as of the Rocky View Weekly's print deadline. However, according to Highfield's project website, the developer submitted a Land Use Amendment application to the County in October 2022 and it is now in public circulation with a public engagement session to come in 2023.

"The Ascension Land Use Amendment application is the next step in realizing the development of the new community as outlined in the approved Conceptual Scheme," read a statement on the website. 

Previously, the developer held two open house sessions to garner feedback on the Ascension Conceptual Scheme on April 26, 2017, and June 7, 2017. These sessions were attended by 99 and 75 member of the public, respectively. 

"During the development of the Conceptual Scheme, we met with out neighbours, including community groups, to hear their perspective and gather feedback on the preliminary vision," the website continued. "Two open houses were held as well as additional communications sent and received online through this project website."

According to the developer, the proposed development is inspired by other Bearspaw neighbourhoods, and residents will appreciate a range of quality housing types and parcel sizes, "many of which back onto community pathways or take advantage of views of the Rocky Mountains."

Highfield Land Management promises the development will be a destination unto itself for residents and the broader Bearspaw community. 

"[It is] a comprehensively-planned, development inspired by its breathtaking views and natural topography, located on the gateway into the Bearspaw community," the website concluded.

But residents remain skeptical of those promises. Fermaniuk warns the schematic design features a high-density residential community similar to the northwest Calgary community of Tuscany.

“This is more of a City of Calgary development, even though Calgary’s average population density is around 1,600 people per square kilometer. This one is around 2,350 people, which is even more dense,” he argued.

The next phase of development is the land use redesignation, announced to Bearspaw residents via a letter on Dec. 1, according to Fermaniuk. The group had until Jan. 13 to submit their letters of opposition, concern, or support to Rocky View County, followed by a formal review.

The land use amendment application is proposing to redesignate the plan area from Agricultural General District to a mix of residential, urban, small lot, mid-density, multi-residential, public service, parks and recreation, natural open space, and more. 

Fermaniuk said, historically, land development and proposals have been presented to the community containing broad terminology. He hopes the group’s ongoing lobbying efforts will bring forth more definition and understanding regarding the proposal.

“We want to have more responsible sustainable development with community collaboration, engagement, and see there is some preservation of the character of our Rocky View County rural communities,” he said.

“And that we have a clear definition, outlines of what can be developed and what should be developed rather than a broad stroke definition.”

He said the group’s tagline is “Awareness into Action.” By bringing awareness through a newly launched website and through community collaboration and engagement, he said they want to ensure a development that is befitting the character of the community and its residents.

“We’re not opposed to development; we are [all for] doing it responsibly and respectfully and sustainably with some respect around the community character and what we have in existing surrounding communities.”

Those interested in learning more about Protecting Bearspaw’s efforts concerning the Ascension Land Use Redesignation proposal are encouraged to visit protectingbearspaw.org

To learn more about the Ascension development, visit highfieldbearspaw.com

When sought for comment on the recent proposal, Rocky View County representatives stated that until a decision is made, the municipality would be unable to provide comment on a topic that has yet to come before council. 


Carmen Cundy

About the Author: Carmen Cundy

Carmen Cundy joined the Airdrie Today team in March 2021.
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