New district approved for downtown
Minimum heights, permitted uses receive council's OK
By: Peter Boer
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 03, 2012 06:00 am
New buildings in St. Albert’s downtown will now be subject to minimum height restrictions and a range of permitted and discretionary uses on the ground floor, much to the displeasure of the St. Albert Taxpayers Association.
The group turned out in force for the continuation of a public hearing Monday night on a pair of motions that move the downtown area redevelopment plan (DARP) forward. One motion changes the land use bylaw to bring it into conformance with DARP while a second created a new land use district — downtown district — for the entire downtown.
The public hearing was a continuation of one adjourned early last month when it was revealed small changes needed to be made to some of the maps involved. One landowner at the time — Harry Gaffney — had also asked the city for documentation about parking waivers, as well as engineering reports related to soil conditions, the water table in the downtown and stormwater infrastructure in the area. At the request of the chamber of commerce, the city also included the chamber’s Perron District brand in the new documentation.
No one from the association attended the first public hearing but director Gord Hennigar, former director Lynda Flannery and member Andy Keller all attended the hearing Monday, arguing subsoil and the high water table of the downtown made DARP economically prohibitive.
Gaffney raised those concerns at this first public hearing last month.
“In my opinion imposing onerous restrictions … will create barriers to growth and development,” Keller said.
The crux of Gaffney’s argument — and that of the association — is that soil and water conditions in the downtown make building multi-storey developments economically unfeasible.
“The water table was brought up. This has a significant impact on the building costs over time,” Flannery said. “The conditions make it extremely expensive to build more than two storeys.”
The argument for imposing minimum building heights of three storeys has to do with maximizing the available land downtown, Crouse said. With high land prices and small parcels, companies will want to build up instead of out.
“You’re getting more out of the land you have. People are asking to save on land,” Crouse said. “We’ll go up and everyone has to contribute to that.”
As for soil and water table issues, administration replied those would be dealt with on a development-by-development basis.
“As you get more detailed in the development, you get more detailed in the planning,” said Curtis Cundy, general manager of planning and engineering.
Restricting what can and cannot be built on ground level in certain areas of the downtown is also an important part of DARP because it creates a more friendly, walkable downtown, which is what the plan is trying to achieve, Crouse has said in the past. DARP tries to limit ground floor space on Perron, St. Anne and St. Thomas streets to retail uses to bring more shoppers downtown. Other plans, such as narrowing Perron Street, will also contribute to that same goal.
But Hennigar said the opposite was true.
“[Perron Street] is already clogged with people parking on the curb,” Hennigar said. “All that is going to do is drive people away.”
The association has been opposed to DARP since its creation, arguing it will cost taxpayers approximately $137 million for little to no financial gain. Crouse has said DARP is a visionary, long-term document intended to guide downtown development and not all expenses outlined in it will be borne by taxpayers.
Bob Gylytiuk, who owns the Blind Pig Pub, said he was just happy to have some direction on where the downtown will proceed.
“I believe that at some point steps have to be taken and the city can’t do all the work,” Gylytiuk said.
“I believe that people and businesses will come downtown because people like to play and work downtown.”