Original Published on Jul 11, 2022 at 16:26

By John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Wheatland County council has passed Bylaw 2022-06, transferring nearly 60 hectares of land from an agricultural general designation to a direct control district. 

The redesignation of the land is intended to facilitate the development of the Western Event Centre by the Strathmore and District Agricultural Society. 

“What we’re putting together here is something where we can make Wheatland County home to the heart of western heritage,” said Strathmore Agricultural Society CEO Ryan Schmidt. “We see this as a branding opportunity to create in this area somewhere where people come to not only support (and) participate in but grow that western way of life that I believe the residents of Wheatland County tremendously support.”

The proposed facility is intended to support a seating capacity of between 1,500 and 2,000 people, as well as to be equipped for a variety of uses including an equestrian centre, entertainment venue and community and cultural facilities, among other uses.

The parcel of land in question is located approximately 0.8 kilometres northeast of the Town of Strathmore, immediately northeast of the Township Road 244 and Range Road 250 intersection.

In the report provided to council, County administration noted the parcel of land subject to redesignation is adjacent to a predominant residential development, as well as existing farmsteads scattered throughout the area.

Several county constituents wrote or presented to council during the regular council meeting on June 21 with objections to the idea of major development occurring in the immediate vicinity of their homes.

Calvin Murray, a concerned constituent of Wheatland County, wrote to council prior to the presentation to speak against the redesignation. 

“If this redesignation is allowed, the excellent agricultural land on this parcel will forever be lost to a more urban facility,” said Murray. 

“The County has a responsibility to protect the environment and maintain land that is in high agricultural production area … the juxtaposition of this redesignation goes against what the County seeks to preserve.”

The debated plot of land is broken down into three cells within the development concept for the planned event centre. 

The first cell is proposed to house the Western Event Centre – consisting of a riding arena, livestock rental stalls, roughstock enclosures, concessions, a commercial kitchen, parking, administrative offices and event space. 

This space will occupy most of the development area and the planned activities are encompassed under defined Entertainment Venue, Equestrian Centre, Restaurant Establishment and Drinking and Eating Establishment use cases. 

Cell two is proposed to be largely overflow parking and designated areas for short-term overnight stays in association with ongoing events held onsite. 

The third cell is proposed to maintain agricultural land uses which are suggested to be intended for supporting the event centre’s activities, including livestock grazing, 4-H events and rodeo schools, among other initiatives.

Councillor Shannon Laprise acknowledged the concerns of constituents who would neighbour the facility grounds, though ultimately believed it would be of tremendous benefit to the county.

“We … see the benefits to having some commercial development in our county. I think we all realize that the increased taxes coming from these businesses help everybody in our county in terms of increasing revenues,” said Laprise. “As an agricultural producer myself, this land is very important, but we have to weigh the benefits to commercial development as well.”

Council voted ultimately in favour of the amendment. There is currently no established timeline for when development may begin on the event centre, however Schmidt had described early in his presentation that he intends for the facility to be complete by 2025.

This item reprinted with permission from The Times, Strathmore, Alberta