The De Havilland Field facility outside of Calgary in Wheatland County is to be the site of final assembly for the DHC-515 Firefighter aircraft, DHC Twin Otter and the Dash 8-400 aircraft. (Image: De Havilland Aircraft of Canada)
— By Lacie Nairn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, DrumhellerMail.com
Wheatland County council passed second and third reading to make textual amendments to its West Highway 1 Area Structure Plan and Land Use Bylaw for the proposed De Havilland Field aircraft manufacturing facility following a public hearing during the regular Tuesday, August 15 council meeting.
These amendments will allow De Havilland Aircraft of Canada to construct a new aircraft manufacturing facility within the county, including an “associated aerospace facility and businesses,” as well as place shipping containers for temporary storage and “move parts and equipment to the site prior to construction of the aerodrome facility.”
“The developer, De Havilland Aircraft of Canada, is proposing to construct a new aircraft manufacturing facility which will consist of an aircraft assembly facility, parts, manufacturing, and distribution centre, maintenance repair, overhaul facility, runway, and associated commercial and industrial uses,” explained Community and Development Services general manager Sherry Baers during the meeting.
Several stakeholders and ratepayers were in attendance during the public hearing portion of the meeting, with some stepping forward to speak both in favour and against the proposed De Havilland Field development.
Strathmore Wheatland Chamber of Commerce executive director Natasha Fyfe was among those who spoke in favour of the development. She noted the potential positive economic impacts the development could have for Wheatland County, between the creation of “hundreds of jobs during the development phase,” along with the estimated 1,500 jobs De Havilland Field would generate.
Along with the benefit of bringing jobs to the region, the proposed development will also help to attract new residents and businesses. Developer Neal Coulter, who is behind the Lakewood Meadows development in the Town of Strathmore, touted the neighbourhood development has seen a surge in purchases since De Havilland first announced its intention to build in Wheatland County, which has allowed the developer to not only sell some 30 lots in Phase 1 of the development, but has also allowed them to bring forward Phase 2; nearly 90 per cent of lots in Phase 2 have already been sold.
Despite support, several landowners were also in attendance and expressed their concerns for the De Havilland Field project.
A primary concern for some of the landowners was the loss of prime agricultural land, and impacts on property values for surrounding and adjacent landowners. While it is anticipated these values will increase, this could put a damper on those agricultural producers looking to expand in the area if land prices were to rise. It was also questioned what impacts having a development, which will include factories, will have on adjacent properties in close proximity to the facility, and the noise impacts of a proposed road diversion through the area.
Another concern was whether the economic benefits touted by those in support would actually have any impact on Wheatland County. One landowner expressed, with the City of Calgary and other municipalities in close proximity to De Havilland Field, whether any of the proposed 1,500 jobs at the De Havilland Field would go towards people living in Wheatland County or to people living in Calgary, Strathmore, or other municipalities.
Likewise, landowners expressed concerns, while De Havilland Field itself would bring tax revenue to Wheatland County that the municipality would miss out on other residential developments which will spring up in neighbouring municipalities like the City of Chestermere or Strathmore.
Following the public hearing, Wheatland County council provided some clarity to landowners in attendance. Council members expressed their gratitude for a business such as De Havilland considering the county, and explained the tax revenue and employment opportunities generated by the development could help retain youth who may otherwise leave rural areas due to a lack of job opportunities with room for growth and advancement. They also acknowledged that much of the land within Wheatland County is agricultural, but that diversification is necessary for the sustainability of the county due to a disproportionate amount of taxes received from agricultural properties.
Council gave second and third reading to both amendments to the West Highway 1 Area Structure Plan, redesignated lands for the De Havilland Field from the Agriculture General District to a Direct Control District, and made textual amendments to allow De Havilland to place storage containers temporarily on the parcels.