Regional approval for Villeneuve Airport Area plan put on hold for now

· The Pulse

Sturgeon County has withdrawn its application for the area structure plan for the Villeneuve Airport Area following "continued questions" about its alignment with the regional growth plan.

The application had been slated to go to the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board for review on Dec. 8, having received second reading by Sturgeon County council on Aug. 24. A review of the proposal by EMRB administration and Lovatt Planning Consultants identified several "inconsistencies" with the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Growth Plan, and recommended that the board reject the application.

"While we are confident in our application for the Villeneuve Airport Area Area Structure Plan, withdrawing it gives us the opportunity to further engage our regional partners and confirm our plan, which will support more than $1.8 billion in economic benefit and more than 1,750 jobs in the region," Megan Candie, senior communications officer at Sturgeon County, told Taproot. "We listened to feedback from regional partners and heard there were continued questions regarding our application."

The primary objection appears to be the proposed expansion of major employment to areas not identified in Schedule 3A of the regional growth plan. Sturgeon County contends that the regional growth plan defines lands within and surrounding regional airports as major employment areas, but the recommendation to reject its application only considers lands within the airport, which neither Sturgeon County nor the EMRB has jurisdiction over.

"We look forward to discussing this interpretation with EMRB administration," Candie said.

Other objections include the omission of land-use planning, phasing of development, and infrastructure staging from the ASP; the need for significant regional infrastructure upgrades to enable the proposed development; a lack of mitigation measures to accompany the agriculture impact assessment; and a lack of information about infrastructure for alternative modes of transportation.

Sturgeon County said its application included most of this information — though some of it was relegated to appendices — and that it has committed to addressing the concerns. The county plans to meet with EMRB administration to discuss the comments in more detail and intends to resubmit its application for approval in early 2023.

A map identifying major employment areas in the regional growth plan

Sturgeon County says the Villeneuve Airport Area ASP is consistent with the regional growth plan, including its definition of major employment areas. (EMRB)

"Our application is supported by comprehensive research and is consistent with the Regional Growth Plan and how it has been applied in the region. We are confident member municipalities will help the future take flight by supporting this plan to create jobs and drive regional economic growth and diversification," Sturgeon County Mayor Alanna Hnatiw said in a statement on Nov. 28.

Sturgeon County's plan for the Villeneuve Airport Area would turn the 1,200 hectares of land surrounding the Villeneuve Airport into an investment and innovation hub. Sectors including aviation and aerospace, defence, advanced manufacturing, renewable energy, agri-innovation, and logistics are all identified as "prime for investment" in the area.

Investors in two of those sectors — value-added agriculture and solar power production — can now benefit from tax incentives from the county. Council has approved the Major Investment Incentives Bylaw, which offers municipal tax exemptions of up to 2% of eligible capital costs for projects worth at least $20 million.

"We must position ourselves to attract businesses, and these incentives position the County as a premier investment destination in our target industries," said Hnatiw.

The county said the incentives could attract investment that results in "millions" in municipal tax revenue over their lifetimes. "The municipal tax revenue from these projects will far exceed the incentive amounts," it said.

Additional sectors may be included in the program in the future. Sturgeon County will start accepting applications for eligible projects in early 2023.