Bremner urban village approved by Strathcona County after 20 years of talk

Strathcona County is moving forward with a major, controversial urban development aimed at one day accommodating nearly 80,000 people.

In a 6-3 vote Tuesday, council approved the Bremner project envisioned for some 20 sq. kilometres of land east of Highway 21 and north of Highway 16.

Coun. Bill Tonita from Ward 4 in northeast Sherwood Park said the region needs to be ready for a growing population as the petro-chemical industry expands. 

"We're out of land," Tonita told CBC News in an interview. "We've reached that point where the land supply to build single family homes or duplexes etc. will be completely exhausted within a couple of years.

"It's not an ideal scenario. If we're going to attract a million people over the next 30 years into this region, we have to provide places for them to live."

Mayor Rod Frank was one of the three council members who voted against the plan, along with Coun. Glen Lawrence from Ward 7 and Linton Delainey from Ward 6, both south of the Bremner area.

Finances and farming were Frank's two main reasons to vote against the plan. 

"It's the best farmland available," Frank told CBC News on Wednesday. "Agri-business is a great opportunity for this region going forward." 

The area includes agricultural land considered to have top quality class 1 and 2 soil, which has the highest capability to support agricultural land use, according to the Canada Land Inventory.

Strathcona County

Tonita agrees the land all around the region is prime. 

"Don't get me wrong, I think it's incredibly good soil right around here, right around Edmonton," he said. 

Soil from Edmonton down to Calgary is top notch, he said, along with farmland across much of Western Canada.

"It's not like taking this land out of production puts us in a position where we've run out of land."

Frank said he's concerned that more work is needed to determine how much it will cost the county. 

Strathcona County council approved the Bremner Growth Management Strategy in 2016. But the county has been discussing the area as a  potential location for urban development since 1998. 

The 13-member Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board approved the plan in July, necessary in fulfilling the organization's mandate to ensure responsible growth in municipalities. 

40-year build out

It's not clear when work in Bremner will actually start.

Council's approval green lights an area concept plan. The next step is developing an area structure plan, which gets into more detail about work between the county and developers. 

Future Strathcona County councils will be faced with decisions on costs for infrastructure and development, the county said. 

It could take 40 years before the area is completely built. It would start slowly, with about 15 per cent of the total infrastructure built in the first decade, according to a financial viability analysis of the project. 

"There's nothing untoward there, it's just the normal process," Frank said about the lack of timeline.  

He likened Bremner to Blatchford in Edmonton, a community on former City Centre Airport lands that took years to approve and develop. 

Frank said market conditions will drive the development.

"Sometimes, if the market's hot, people are putting a spade in there as quickly as they can."

The county also plans to develop an area across from Bremner, on the south side of Highway 16, as part of the full project.

Stantec is the consulting firm working on the project.