Mayor floats development idea
City could front-end costs of non-residential development
By: Peter Boer
| Posted: Saturday, Feb 16, 2013 06:00 am
The city might have to get into the land development business if it wants to be creative in economic development, the mayor said.
When asked at the State of the City address Wednesday when services such as water, sewer and stormwater might be extended to the employment lands, St. Albert’s 617-acre light industrial park to the west of the city, Crouse replied by saying the city might have to put in the services itself.
That statement is a sharp reversal in message from Crouse, who has always maintained St. Albert doesn’t have the money to start developing land. But front-ending or paying for the installation of infrastructure up front, might be necessary, Crouse said.
“We shouldn’t lose track of the fact we do it with roads,” Crouse said afterwards. “So should you do it with other infrastructure? Probably not much of it but if we’re going to be serious about economic development, we should do something about it.”
That matter will be up for debate later this year, most likely in May, when third-reading of the new offsite levies bylaw is scheduled for third reading. City council will receive an update on offsite levies next month. The review of the bylaw has been in the works since early last year and when passed, will spell out exactly who pays how much for services such as water, sewer and storm.
At that time, council can debate whether or not it wants to get into the business of front-ending the cost of service installation, Crouse said.
“It’s not in our plan right now or in the details, but we might look at front-ending something and collect it back with levies,” Crouse said. “There’s some possibility.”
Up until his speech Wednesday, the city had always maintained that its mission, and that of its economic development department, was creating easy access for potential developers and trying to get them together with landowners.
But the city’s decision to zone the employment lands as light industrial has drawn criticism in the past from industry. Jim Pennell, a senior development manager at Genstar, has repeatedly stated that extending services to the employment lands could cost as much as $10 million and that no private developer is going to invest that much money in such a project.
Guy Boston, the city’s executive director for economic development and former general manager of engineering, said the city could put the services into the ground without actually getting into the role of playing land developer in the employment lands.
“Now to put pipes in the ground in the lands themselves, you need an area structure plan,” said Boston. “But getting the pipes close to the employment lands … how close is close?”
It could also be risky considering the amount of money required. Boston pointed to the example of Fort McLeod, which the province reimbursed last month more than $10 million related to costs for the cancelled Alberta Public Security and Law Enforcement Training Centre. Of that cost, approximately $5 million related to water and sewer servicing alone.
“Therein lies the challenge,” Boston said. “You have to try and balance.”