The recent approval in principle by Calgary city council of a controversial housing development next door to Spruce Meadows has pleased the owners of the internationally renowned equestrian facility.

“All in all, we’re proud of how the council reacted and the city reacted to the plan,” Spruce Meadows executive vice- president Linda Southern-Heathcott told Business Edge.

Last week, council voted 12-3 in favour of the plan, while calling for additional environmental and transportation studies to be completed before second and third readings, expected by the end of March.

One of the amendments approved was that Spruce Meadows Way (14th Street) will remain a two-lane road in perpetuity. The city decided there was too much impact on the wetland to the east of the road, which also forms a buffer between Spruce Meadows and the development, to increase the size of the road.

However, council did not approve a Spruce Meadows proposal to build a road on the eastern boundary of the development.

Larry MacDougal, Business Edge
The Southern family – from left, Linda Southern-Heathcott, Ron and Marg – listened to the development debate last week at Calgary city council.

“We were happy with the process which brought our concerns to light,” said Southern-Heathcott. “We have assurances that the wetlands will be protected and that further transportation will be looked at.

“In the end, I think what we need to do is take a little bit of time to study the wording of the amendments.”

Spruce Meadows has also said it is willing to pay for part of a transportation study to examine long-term access to its facility.

Ronmore Holdings spokesman Doug Porozni, overseeing the Silverado development that will see 17,000 houses built less than 300 metres from the equestrian facility, said last week’s developments were an important step because a framework is now in place.

“At the end of the day, we’re happy we don’t have any additional roads on our land and we will have a buffer of the wetland,” he added, noting the housing development won’t rely on any direct access to Spruce Meadows Way.

“Spruce Meadows almost has exclusive use to that road.”

Three levels of government – the city, the province and the municipal district – are involved in discussions regarding transportation, he added. “What was important to us was to disconnect the southwest community plan from Spruce Meadows’ traffic concerns. They are two different things.”

Porozni said the review process, now in the hands of council, won’t slow down plans to begin construction in 2005.

He noted that city council has already approved the annexing of lands south and east of his development and the plan has been submitted to the province.

A public hearing on the development proposal, which already had been approved by the city’s planning commission, lasted 52 hours while a barrage of correspondence and oral submissions by Spruce Meadows’ supporters was also considered.

In the days leading up to the hearing, Spruce Meadows took out full-page ads in the local papers and sent out thousands of letters outlining its position. Results of a poll it commissioned showed 76 per cent of Calgarians believed there should be a buffer between development and Spruce Meadows, 84 per cent believed Spruce Meadows was acting in good faith to protect the venue and 75 per cent said their opinion of the mayor and aldermen would be negatively affected if the city didn’t act to protect the wetland.

For its part, Ronmore countered with a press conference to correct what it called “misinformation” about its development plan.

Spruce Meadows was created 30 years ago by the Southern family who founded and control the ATCO Group of companies. It is ranked the No. 1 equestrian show jumping facility in the world.