City advised to acquire more land for future growth
St. Albert currently faces shortfall for providing services to larger population
By: Peter Boer
| Posted: Friday, Jan 11, 2013 07:00 pm
St. Albert needs to change how it acquires land for city purposes if it wants to be ready to provide services to a larger population, council heard on Monday.
With St. Albert expected to reach a population of 100,000 by the year 2043, the city needs to start planning for the amount of land it will need for its own uses to make up for a current shortfall, explained director of economic development Guy Boston.
“Our challenge is our acquisition opportunities, from the land perspective, are limited,” Boston said.
When St. Albert’s population hits the 100,000 mark, the city will need approximately 155.9 hectares of land for future civic facilities, Boston estimates. The city has title to 39.2 hectares – mostly located on the Badger parcel at the northwest end of town.
There are roughly 1,045 hectares of undeveloped, privately-owned land in St. Albert. If all this land was to be developed, the city would acquire about 104.5 hectares, as developers are required to set aside 10 per cent of all land for municipal reserve. But 45.1 hectares of that total would have to be set aside for future school sites.
That leaves a deficit of 57.3 hectares that administration believes should be set aside over time.
“There are many thousands of acres, but they also encompass parks and roadways,” Boston said.
Municipal reserve from developers is one of two ways the city can acquire land. The other is to buy it outright, as it did with Badger about eight years ago. But St. Albert has no strategic plan or policy on how to acquire land over time for its own use, Boston said.
“We need to develop a consistent process for transactions that will enable administration to strategically negotiate for lands in the future,” Boston said.
The city has typically only pursued the purchase of land when it realizes it needs it, which is inefficient, Boston said. If the city had a more comprehensive policy or plan, it could buy land when prices are reasonable, would have more options as to what land is available and there would be less pressure during negotiations to obtain the land immediately, he said.
How the city finances land purchases also needs to be examined, Boston said. The city could borrow the money, which would be quick but would impact property taxes in order to repay the amount over time. It could also access its long-term investments, but that means less revenue for the city.
Another option would be to use its capital asset revolving fund, which is funded either by transfers from council or the sale of land the city owns. Boston explained that, since 2003, the average rate of return on city land has been approximately 25 per cent, compared to just over three per cent on its long-term investments.
“There’s a bit of a difference on what land can potentially get you and what the investment rate is,” he said.
Administration will return with the necessary amendments to several different policies in May for a council vote.