The Sherwood Accord: devils in the details

by Paul Dechene

Jubilant — how often do I get to use that word in a city hall story? But it pretty much sums up the mood at city hall on Nov. 6 as council brought their plan to expand Regina’s borders several crucial steps closer to fruition.

The night also featured an unprecedented agenda. It began with the Rural Municipality of Sherwood’s council, led by Reeve Kevin Eberle, taking over Henry Baker Hall to hold a special meeting in which they voted unanimously to support Regina’s plan to annex significant portions of the RM. When that was done, Regina’s council took their seats and also voted in support.

Now all the annexation plan requires is the province’s stamp of approval and Regina’s map will swell considerably to the north, east and west.

It’s a big triumph for council’s growth agenda, meaning we will very likely have the land to support greenfield development for a population out to 400,000. That’s about twice our current population. And all this was accomplished with full support of the municipality from which we’re taking the land.

Mayor Fougere said of the night, “This is a very historic evening and a very unique evening,” adding later that, “This is very symbolic. It shows that both councils have been working together for quite some time.”

This is a far cry from the note council struck after Sherwood dissolved the Sherwood-Regina Planning District then presented their own Official Community Plan that proposed aggressive development on Regina’s border.

At the time, then-councillor Louis Browne had harsh words for Sherwood’s OCP.

“Just imagine a ring around Regina of low-density acreages. Well, that’s like a noose around our neck,” he said.

Mayor Michael Fougere, who was just Councillor Fougere at that May 6, 2012 meeting, described the situation like this: “They would be developing residential development right on the border of the city of Regina and just assuming they’re going to get all these services [such as water and sewer] just because they’re going to do it. This is not a relationship that is positive or functional.”

It’s just 18 months later, and the RM and the City of Regina are best pals.

What gives?

Well, both municipalities went through a long period of mediation to sort out their differences. And they recently participated in a Regional Planning Summit that was co-hosted by the city and the Regina Regional Opportunities Commission. Out of this process emerged a Memorandum Of Understanding that lays out a broad set of principles on how development around the city will proceed, it’s most significant achievement being that it designates a Joint Planning Area — basically a buffer zone around the city that includes both Sherwood territory and the land that Regina intends to annex. In the JPA, planning decisions will go through a review process in which both municipalities will participate.

Also, Regina significantly scaled back an annexation plan proposed in September that would have included a chunk of land to the city’s southeast in the list of lots the city was to take over. Under the new annexation plan, that land will remain a part of Sherwood and be incorporated into a larger Collaborate Planning Area in the city’s south.

Sherwood’s deputy reeve, Tim Probe, describes this CPA as an area where the RM and the city will work together in an especially close way.

“Through mediation we decided that we would work together to formulate a joint concept plan for that area and we’ll address things such as transportation, land use, servicing, tax revenue sharing, capital/recreational funding models. So what we’re going to do is try and collaborate to come up with a plan,” he says.

The CPA in the southeast is one feature of the accord between the two municipalities that both councils singled out as proof of how cozy their relationship has become. Of course, any mention of development to the southeast of the city raises the spectre of Wascana Village, a major residential development that Sherwood announced in May. It’s a suburban neighbourhood with an anticipated population of 14,000 that, if it goes forward, will fall largely within the new Collaborative Planning Area.

According to Probe, the developer behind Wascana Village, Great Prairie Development, is still moving that project forward, though he isn’t clear on the details.

“The city has lots to offer the RM of Sherwood in terms of services and their professional staff and planning. And we of course have the land mass to offer,” said Probe after the meeting. “So now if we can work in conjunction with each other and the developer is accepting of that, then it’s going to go where it goes. And I don’t know where that is right as of today.”

Probe says it’s still too early to say how exactly the CPA will influence the final development of Wascana Village but in a phone interview, he confirmed that as the CPA land falls within Sherwood’s boundaries, their Official Community Plan will govern the development.

That said, he notes that principles within Regina’s OCP will have an influence on developments in the CPA — how exactly though is still up in the air.

The city’s director of Planning and Sustainability, Diana Hawryluk, agrees that it is too early to say specifically how exactly the city will be able to use the Collaborative Planning Area to influence a development like Wascana Village.

“I think we’ve expressed our concerns and as I said we’ll be working with the RM to be looking at that plan and working with them to try and address our concerns,” she says.

Presently, the last major obstacle in Wascana Village’s path is the provincial government. They have yet to approve Sherwood’s Official Community Plan in full, and without a provincial “okay,” Sherwood can’t rezone the southeast lands for development.

But in a letter dated Feb. 22, Keith Comstock, the assistant deputy minister of municipal relations, indicated that the province’s endorsement was withheld in part because the city and RM hadn’t come to an agreement about regional development.

In other words, while this accord with Sherwood makes it possible for Regina to annex most of the land they’ve hoped for, it also makes it much more likely that we will see the city on the edge of our city that we feared.

It could well turn out to be a development that’s worth fearing. Stay tuned.