Annexation: Growing Together or Dividing Priorities? #yegcc

The issue of annexation was foreshadowed in October 2011, when then-Mayor Stephen Mandel indicated to the Edmonton Journal the need to work cooperatively with its neighbours to address Edmonton’s future land needs. At the time, it was estimated that all the City’s planned neighbourhoods would be full within 15 years, and three unplanned areas would be fully developed within 35 years. Fast-forward to 2015, and Edmonton’s growth concerns have become a common challenge faced by many of the municipalities in the Capital Region.

Our region has been one of the fastest-growing in Canada due to in-migration and high birth rates, and faces increasing pressures on existing land as communities expand to accommodate these new residents and the services they require. While all the region’s municipalities are experiencing increased growth, Edmonton’s needs are acute and pressing: even while increasing density in the core the city requires land, not to encourage or enable urban sprawl, but in order to build denser neighbourhoods, industrial corridors, and commercial development. The critical question attached to annexation asks how we can balance the needs of multiple adjacent communities. A huge part of this question is how to build stronger, co-operative relationships within the region, using land, services, and resources efficiently, while supporting Edmonton as the primary hub at its centre. To share the challenges – and benefits – of growth, the region’s municipalities need to have their eye on the future.

Initial pre-annexation negotiations between Edmonton and Leduc County commenced in April 2012, and in 2013 the City filed Notices of Intent relating to two separate annexation applications: approximately 30 000 acres west of the QEII highway, and just under 10 000 acres east of the QEII, impacting the municipalities of Leduc County and the town of Beaumont, respectively. The additional land would support another 30-35 years of growth for the City, while still leaving routes for the City of Leduc and Town of Beaumont to expand as well.

Annexation processes are notoriously protracted and can involve years of negotiations before the application is heard by the Municipal Government Board for approval. Currently, the City is engaged in negotiations with Leduc County to discuss issues of mutual relevance surrounding the exact boundaries of the lands to be transferred, provision of services such as fire and police, school boundaries, potential shared infrastructure, as well as reasonable compensation for the lands to be annexed. Both jurisdictions are presently reviewing each other’s Growth Plans, which will be the focus of the negotiating teams’ upcoming meeting.

However, this process has been complicated by an application submitted by the Town of Beaumont to annex lands which overlap those in Edmonton’s proposal. According to MGB protocol, applications are addressed on a “first submitted” basis. Beaumont’s application will be heard June 8th to 26th , and the MGB’s decision will set the parameters for Edmonton’s formal application. There has not been a provision for tri-partite negotiations, so each process will occur separately.

Annexation can provide benefits for the city and the surrounding region – important ones such as a strong central city for the region; efficiency for infrastructure and service delivery; compact development with increased density; competitive land market; and economic development for the region. However, it also comes with its own challenges – one of which was raised by Edmonton Police Service recently as announced the need for an additional 310 officers over three years to patrol the additional land area. Fire rescue provision and school boundaries remain outstanding issues that are close to home for residents in all jurisdictions. However, it benefits all sides to seek opportunities for economic co-operation and co-ordination between municipalities. If we can work together, our region will be the ultimate winner.