2010 a pivotal year for council

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A new year and decade is for many a time of reflection and goal setting. It’s no different for city council, which many issues to resolve in 2010, an election year. Here’s our list of recommended council new year’s resolutions.

The first, and some would argue most important issue on council’s agenda in 2010, is smart growth. Two years in the making, the proposed smart growth principles would create a set of rules to ensure new development in the annexed lands is pedestrian friendly, transit orientated, with a greater housing mix than St. Albert’s traditional low-density make-up. Council resolution: Help ensure St. Albert provides a greater mix of housing options, but do not mandate changes that won’t work in our climate or market. St. Albert has a unique look and feel that sells itself and some planning concepts are best suited to paper.

Developing the annexed lands has been on council’s agenda for three years. Most of the planning is complete, however we’re still waiting for the first shovels to break ground. That could happen if the Erin Ridge North area structure plan is approved, and a longer-term plan is created to determine the cost and timing to service other parcels with water and sewer. Council resolution: Approve Erin Ridge North but with a stated desire to fast-track commercial development, which is in short supply on Highway 2. Continue to work with developers on a joint servicing strategy that takes into account about a dozen landowners’ interests. Finalize offsite levy rates that won’t grind development to a halt but do not penalize existing St. Albert residents who already bear a heavy property tax and user fee burden.

There’s already plenty of buzz about the Heartland Transmission Project, which has the potential to become a hot-button issue for council. One of the four proposed alignments could lead to a 500-kilovolt, double-circuit power line in St. Albert’s backyard. The project has sparked health fears throughout the region, leading to strong lobby groups that want the project buried underground. Council resolution: Take up the cause of St. Albert residents to ensure the power line does not mar property values of homes in south St. Albert or River Lot 56.

The city’s relationship with Sturgeon County endured frosty moments before the annexation in 2007. Relations have since improved to a level of quiet politeness, but that could change with several intermunicipal issues on the horizon. Part of that comes from St. Albert’s goal of creating industrial areas in the annexed lands, an idea that runs contrary to the city’s annexation argument and the Sturgeon-St. Albert intermunicipal development plan (IDP). The county is reviewing proposals for new development in Sturgeon Valley that could affect St. Albert’s growth prospects, especially with plans that call for a more diverse housing mix. Meanwhile, the IDP is three years past its best-before date, however renewing the plan could open up an even greater can of worms neither council wants, especially in an election year. Council resolution: It is likely too late to renew the IDP before the October election. Continue to work with Sturgeon County on amicable solutions to land uses in the IDP area, a situation that might require compromises on both fronts.

This council was handed a freshly updated municipal development plan and an expectation for growth when it took office in 2007, yet so far that hasn’t happened with another election around the corner. The first part of the term was consumed by the Servus Place deficit, while master planning, servicing talks and the recession have delayed realizing immediate growth. Smart growth has dragged on, perhaps for naught. Meanwhile, property taxes increased 13.9 per cent over three years. Council resolution: Anyone seeking re-election might face a tougher challenge than usual, especially if the downturn continues through 2010. Council needs to show voters it has more than just plans on paper to realize growth dreams.

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