Downtown plan built on faulty foundation
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 08, 2012 06:00 am
The bylaw changes that would require key elements of $137 million Downtown Area Redevelopment Plan (DARP) for any new developments, hit a little snag at council this past week. The key change is that no new buildings can be under three to four stories high. But the owners and developers of essentially the entire west side Perron Street, as represented by one of those owners Mr. Harry Gaffney, suggested that DARP and the resultant bylaw overlooked some key issues.
Although he brought up several issues, the most important of these is the soil and water table issues. These determine whether the height of the buildings required under the new bylaw can even be built economically, and thus is the DARP founded on quicksand.
Mr. Gaffney said to build their two-storey building on Perron, 98 concrete piles down to bedrock were needed, rather than the 50 or so that were originally planned). Basements couldn't be built let alone underground parking, and with the huge costs for a two-storey building, a four-storey building wouldn't be feasible. He pointed to St. Albert Place and the three-storey professional building on St. Anne as other examples of high-cost construction due to these problems.
The high-priced DARP consultant who recommended all these high storey buildings and three to four storey minimum heights didnít look at whether soil and water conditions could interfere with their bright ideas. Apparently, only when an owner decided to build would he then have to do the studies to find out how bad the problems were on his site and how it might drastically increase his cost estimates.
It seems to me that the height requirements in themselves will hinder, not help development. And the entire DARP is predicated on these multi-storey buildings, resulting in a population of 7,000 downtown.
As pointed out by Coun. Cam MacKay, if the DARP is put in place, the best case scenario for increased city revenue is $80 million. Contrast this to the $137 million potential costs. Even the $42 million kick-start projects brought sticker shock to the newly-elected council in the fall of 2010. They couldn't pay for themselves, rather would have to be financed by all taxpayers of St. Albert.
The mayor clearly supports DARP, referring to the owner of the Wine Kitz building on Perron as an example of the private sector kick-starting DARP. With respect, the key elements of DARP as included in the bylaw that the mayor would like to see passed, would have prevented the construction of this building as it is one and one-half stories too short. This strong supporter of DARP wisely built before he would have to conform to the expensive DARP amendments. Statements by Couns. Heron, Parker and Bracko also clearly indicate their support for DARP.
You have another chance to let council know your thoughts. As a result of the information requests made by Coun. MacKay, the bylaw process has been postponed to Oct. 1.
Take a look at the council debate and MacKay's presentation of the numbers on the cityís website then let council know your thoughts. It may be your last chance to save your downtown and keep tax increases from further spiralling out of sight.
Lynda Flannery, director, St. Albert Taxpayers Association