Council says no to planning tool
By: Cory Hare
| Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 06:00 am
A computer modelling project aimed at helping the city achieve economic sustainability will gather dust after city council declined the opportunity to have city staff complete work started by a volunteer with the St. Albert Economic Development Advisory Committee.
Committee member Rod Schatz spent dozens of hours of his own time creating a computer model to analyze data from the city’s geographic information system (GIS). This system is a way that municipalities itemize elements of geography, such as roads, utilities and land to inform decision-making.
Schatz, who has a master’s degree in GIS, was using software called CommunityViz, which enables users to build a model that analyzes GIS information to show how particular planning decisions would impact taxes, economic development or transportation.
The intent was to model the tax implications of different development scenarios in the annexed lands with the ultimate goal of helping the city achieve economic sustainability rather than remain as a bedroom community, Schatz said.
The tool could have shown what the city’s taxes would look like in 2035 if it continued to rely on residents to provide 90 per cent of the tax revenue, he said. Conversely, it could have shown what type of development mix would be required to achieve the long-targeted 80-20 split between residential and non-residential tax revenue.
“The city currently doesn’t do that type of analysis. We have planners who work on designing the city in conjunction with developers but they aren’t really looking at the big picture,” Schatz said. “This tool allows them to look at the big picture.”
Last week council heard that completing the work that Schatz started would require at least 250 hours of staff time. Administration also said it has the tools it needs to do the city’s planning.
“At this point I don’t have a specific need for the program,” said planning and development director Curtis Cundy.
Council went with administration and vetoed the additional work.
“To me, if it’s important to SAEDAC, they’re the ones that should pick it up and complete it,” said Coun. Wes Brodhead.
“It’s disappointing to see all of that hard work be lost in basically one council vote,” Schatz said.
It’s too bad that all of Schatz’s work was for nought, said Coun. Cam MacKay, who sits on SAEDAC, but he felt the city can still do a proper job of planning its future.
“It’s not a huge deal. The direction that council’s going is still the same. We’re still committed to pursuing economic development,” he said.
The tool doesn’t account for political forces or public input and subsequently had its limitations, said Mayor Nolan Crouse.
“I’m OK with what our planning department has because they have their own tools,” he said.