If you were to ask Gerry Ertel, president of the Riverview Community Association, about the public engagement process for development in Cochrane, he would tell you to not waste your time.
For 23 months, Ertel and the association have been battling the developer, the town and the mayor on the Greystone project and says he's convinced it wasn't worthwhile.
"Public engagement for serious issues, like development, is flawed and needs major changes," he believes. "If this issue ever comes to the table in a meaningful way, I would be happy to share my list of areas requiring improvement. In the meantime, public engagement, as currently structured, should be restricted to issues like naming bridges and that may be a stretch."
In a summary on the experience, he condemns both Mayor Jeff Genung and Councilor Marni Fedeyko for doing an about-face on their election promises by opting for more growth and prolonging the traffic chaos the town is facing. He attacks Genung, Fedeyko and councillors Susan Flowers and Tara McFadden for trivializing concern over having enough water to meet future growth. On the other hand, he commended councillors Morgan Nagel, Alex Reed and Patrick Wilson for standing by their election platforms.
"Mayor Genung turned his back on Riverview in 2007 related to the townhouses approval and has done it again in 2018 with Greystone. This is unfortunate and I hope it won't be forgotten."
During a Riverview Open House for candidates in the fall election, they were asked to respond in writing to a series of questions pertaining to growth in general but also in particular to Riverview and the Greystone development. Question five centred upon whether candidates wanted Cochrane's growth rate slowed.
Genung said, "I am concerned for our entire town and wish to see the erosion of our communities reversed. It is time to focus back on our residents, correct the growth explosion and restore our quality of life."
Noting the economy will dictate how quickly Cochrane's population goes, Fedeyko said in her response many of the decisions had been taken out of candidates' hands due to the rash of approvals by the previous council for Southbow, Precedence and Rivercrest. But she didn't close the door on the Greystone development with her answer.
"We have many half-built communities and I am not in favour of seeing more new developments come forward that haven't already been in the works. Let's finish off some of the communities we already have."
Ertel says there's a valuable lesson here
"I think it has confirmed that public engagement is a political catchphrase with no substance and that some council candidates will say whatever it takes to get elected while having another agenda. In both cases, it discourages the public to engage in any meaningful town issue or to even vote."
Among the changes, Ertel and the Riverview Community have been pushing include the major new park promised in the town's Open Spaces plan, a larger buffer between residential properties and the Spray Lake Sawmills property. They have expressed concerns over health issues, traffic issues and the town's water licence that will be hardhard-pressed to meet all the development plans approved by the town.