Residents mounted a massive assault to save the Class 4 Wetland 80 during a May 13 public hearing on proposed land-use and neighbourhood plan amendments for the next phase of The Willows. 

For nearly three hours, Willows residents, young and old alike, rose to point out why it should remain and how it attracted them to purchase homes there in the first place. Numerous audio-visual presentations helped to illustrate how it serves as a vibrant haven for wildlife and community recreation. and reminded the town and the developer of the commitment made to preserve it. 

Despite that, representatives of Madlee Developments Ltd. and B&A Creative Studio say it's already too late to save the wetland because its catchment has been drastically reduced by ongoing development in River Heights.

Instead, they want to remove the wetland and reinvent the area.

"Our proposal will change the area into a public space with attractive landscaping, walking paths, and year-round amenities," explained Pam MacInnis, of B&A.

It will include a summer sports court that will be converted to a public skating rink in the winter. It will see 14 lots back on to greenspace. Currently, there are four.

The land-use amendment sought would convert the wetland area into residential medium density from its current community service district. The changes would result in 5.69 acres of medium-density lands, 0.22 acres of residential mix lands, 1.01 acres of community service land and 1.33 acres of park and recreation land.

Should it be left alone, Kent Hystad, of Madlee Developments, said Wetland 80 is destined to dry up and become unusable parkland. He said if the amendment isn't approved, the existing plan calls for new homes to be built closer to existing ones bordering on the green space.

wetland land-use

"The comments tonight are about the wetland and how it looks today and the amenity that it brings," said MacInnis in response to the multiple presentations heard by council in opposition to the change. "All of our studies and the environmental consultants that we've spoken to have expressed that this wetland is at great risk."

Significant to the developer's argument is the approval received from Alberta Environment to infill Wetland 80 for residential development, subject to conditions, on May 18, 2023,

"From Alberta Environment's perspective, the wetland wasn't deemed active enough for them to claim it as an important water land, and so they have issued a Water Act approval to have it removed," MacInnis told council.

Councillor Marni Fedeyko asked if the developer could accurately predict the lifespan of Wetland 80.

"Whether or not it's one year or 20 years, I don't know if you can predict that. And for some people sitting here, 20 years is a heck of a long time to be able to enjoy it."

A petition with 525 signatures called for its continued protection. Neil Egsgard, one of the presenters, says it was signed by 78 per cent of Willows' residents.

He told council there has been a clear commitment made by the town and developer in its neighbourhood plan to preserve the wetland.

"Even if the wetlands did dry up, you can still leave it there and create a beautiful green space," said Egsgard. "That's what people want, that's what people are expecting."

Homeowners are particularly angry that it breaks a promise that the wetland would be there forever.

Susan Jackson, a 26-year Cochrane resident, questioned how the developer can be trusted to do what they say after they broke that promise. 

"How can we really know what they will do if they do proceed to fill in this wetland, because with the map that they had provided in the show homes when we bought our properties, we were guaranteed that that wetland was never going to be touched, and we bought our property there because of the wetland."

She questioned what would happen to their property values and worried the neighbourhood would become subject to flash flooding without the wetland.

Councillor Nagel Nagel asked point blank what the developer has to say to these residents about that promise.  

"What people are telling their buyers is true," said MacInnis. "It was planned to be preserved. That was the initial intention. Today it is still functioning as a wetland, there's no denying that, and we hope that our presentation didn't imply it doesn't, because we know that it does."

But they insisted it won't last.

"We can't change the catchment. We can't stop the development that's happening to the north or to the northwest and there's already development that has happened to the west, so the catchment has been removed."

Wetland supportersWillows residents began their efforts to save Wetland 80 last fall.

Former Cochrane mayor Judy Stewart lives in East Cochrane but considers Wetland 80 a friend she visits on occasion.

"This is a critical piece of natural infrastructure," said Stewart, a long-time advocate for wetlands and the preservation of sensitive natural settings. "It is also a very important aspect of The Willows community. The people who live up there love this wetland. They care about it, and they want to keep it."

Stewart commended the developer for proposing to develop affordable housing there but said you don't need to destroy wetlands to do so.

Town council will reach their decision soon.

wetland 2(photo submitted)