Debate rages over empty lot in downtown Okotoks

Posted by on Wednesday, March 15th, 2017 at 1:43pm.

  

Residents in Okotoks love their downtown.  It’s intimate, interesting and intriguing because once upon a time, town administration placed a huge emphasis on creating and maintaining its character.  Although some business leaders say its been too long since the town did anything to move the downtown area forward.

So with today’s emphasis on walkable streets and vibrant downtown areas and the desire from local shop owners to reignite the downtown culture, it’s no wonder that a site in downtown Okotoks has become a hot topic.

It’s called the Landmark site, an empty plot of land at the intersection of McRae and Clark, on the opposite side of the street from the beloved Monkey Mountain Toys and Games in Okotoks.  According to an article in the Okotoks Western Wheel weekly paper, the location of the piece of land is drawing a lot of attention from people who think it would be a great place to build a business in the progressive town.

Town council, in preparation for some of the companies that have expressed interest in purchasing the site, has changed some of the land use by-laws.  In revising the land use to “direct control”, a business such as a microbrewery can be constructed at this location provided the developer meets certain requirements, including design control and ensuring that the community wouldn’t be subjected to certain odours in the brewing process.

A microbrewery has put forward an expression of interest along with three other businesses.  The town wants to see someone set up shop at that intersection as long as they add value to the towntown landscape.

Michael MacIntyre, director of development services for the Town of Okotoks, said specifically that they want to “animate” the downtown area as mandated it the Sustainability Plan with the right sort of neighbours.  The town wants a business that will bring residents downtown and attract tourists.

Other Ideas for the Landmark Site

Public spaces are another part of the urban movement as a vehicle to connect people to the community and to each other.  That’s why some people in Okotoks would rather see a plaza put on the site.  This was also one of the recommendations put forward by Roger Brooks, a tourism consultant who worked with town officials last year.  His branding team considered a public plaza surrounded by attractive shops would be an excellent idea.  The plaza would offer community programming in the summer and public skating in the winter.   However, the Landmark site may not be sufficiently big enough to accommodate a plaza of that size and description.

MacIntyre hasn’t ruled out a public plaza in the downtown area but it just can’t go on the Landmark site.  He said that the town is working on an alternate location. The municipal budget is a concern when the Town starts thinking about a new plaza.  If a business opens then the economy benefits but even more so, the Town would be able to collect taxes in addition to benefiting from the sale of the land which the Town now owns.

Some residents would prefer the land host a development that can be used by families.  Others would rather free enterprise take over and that taxpayer money not be used for whatever development occurs. Business owners nearby, like Ed Povhe who owns Bistro 1882 on nearby North Railway whold like to see something happens soon.  Povhe is also on the Downtown Steering Committee and a local merchants group and wants to see some forward momentum.  After being in Okotoks for six years, he says that the downtown area hasn’t really been looked at and be believes its time.  A lot of building and commercial development has occurred on the outskirts of Okotoks as well as residential development especially close to Highway 7 on the town’s south side and Povhe wants to ensure that residents continue to have a reason to go downtown in Okotoks.  He it’s been difficult to watch the outlying areas get business parks and shopping centres while the downtown area, while still a nice place to visit, hasn’t had any significant improvements lately.  Said Povhe, “you can’t lose your downtown.”

Whatever development happens will happen slowly and deliberately because the Town wants to get it right.

 

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