“Your RM is taking the lead to get ahead of the curve and that is tough to do,” said Tim Cheesman, a community planning consultant from Regina who was in Estevan last Thursday to help lead an RM of Estevan open house event.
Using computer graphics as an aid, Cheesman said the ultimate goal was to provide a growth and management plan for the local RM that surrounds the city of Estevan and includes an interesting mix of coal mining, oil well drilling, manufacturing, industrial and commercial enterprises mixed in with several pockets of residential development.
“We're attempting to determine where growth should go and provide some criteria to assist. When things slow down here, you still need to be sustainable,” Cheesman told the RM councillors and Reeve Kelly Lafrentz as well as about 25 to 30 people who were packed into the council chambers to hear the presentation and discuss the future with those who will be charged with the task of overseeing future developments.
“We, as consultants, are looking where growth could take place and where there are restraints. For example, the city would have problems growing south now and the heavy truck bypass is a concern for all of you, of course,” Cheesman said.
The consultant and Lafrentz assured those in the audience that no zoning plans were in the mix since there was a bylaw already in place and no further action would be required in the immediate future.
“And when the RM does do it, it will be in consultation with ratepayers.”
Cheesman said he would advise the council and all those concerned to wait until the bypass plans and designs are firmed up and confirmed by the provincial Highways and Infrastructure Ministry and then plan for commercial activity around it “and have an idea where residential development will go. But we're doing homework on the bigger issue first.”
Lafrentz said it was council's intention to “weigh requests and make decisions to find the appropriate fit for industrial, manufacturing, commercial and residential developments."
Cheesman said council also had to ensure mitigation measures are in place and those have been worked into the new models that are being developed to help steer the RM of Estevan into a new period of growth. He said business candidates have increasing expectations.
“Nothing will be perfect, but if you work with the City to make sure there is complementary growth, it can happen especially since you have a joint development plan with the City. You can't do it in isolation,” Cheesman said.
The community planner said it was “phenomenal” that the RM and City of Estevan have such a strong working relationship and are completely open and transparent with each other. That situation made it much easier for people like him to move on with ideas for future growth.
“You two talk jointly about servicing, revenue and expense sharing and you have a genuine desire to share and express your ideas and plan together such things as industrial parks and how to protect lands that need to be protected.”
Cheesman assured the ratepayers in attendance that “nothing has been predetermined. The plans are being made to help get costs down for infrastructure in both jurisdictions.”
Cheesman later told The Mercury that he and his company have been working on the RM plans for the past eight months and they should be completed to the point where they can provide an official community plan by February 2013 and that would include a user friendly zoning bylaw.
In the meantime, the various plans that are being bandied about are flexible and emerging on a regular basis.
The RM council explained that in order to adopt a new zoning bylaw, the province requires them to adopt an official community plan which, in turn, led to the hiring of Cheesman to help them reach those two goals.
Lafrentz said the planning team will conduct more open house events over the next few months to gather public and ratepayer opinions and ideas while fielding their concerns regarding development over the next 10 to 15 years.
Many of the questions directed to councillors and Cheesman following the formal presentation were focused on the planned heavy truck bypass and its implications on some farmers who needed to move heavy equipment in or around the bypass track. The semi-circle bypass will tie in Highway 39 east to west using a northern route around the main highway as well as accommodating traffic coming into the city from Highway 47 north and south.
RM of Estevan residents were also asked to fill out a questionnaire that asked them what they felt were the important assets within their community, what the perceived challenges were and what type of development they would like to see in and around the municipality as well as things they would not like to see in their RM. The questionnaires can be submitted to the RM office on Fourth Street when completed or can be submitted online using the RM Facebook site.