City council candidates talk long-term planning
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 28, 2013 06:00 am
This week, the Gazette asked the city mayor and councillor candidates to relay their thoughts regarding long-term city planning in St. Albert.
Biermanski would like to see strict guidelines and community input when it comes to long term planning.
‘That’s a big factor to me in planning a future,” she said. Guidelines should be in place so people know what to expect.
“I would like to see the basic needs settled and put in place and then plan for that more immediate future, the future you can see and not 30 years down the road,” she said, noting she’s not in favour of the Downtown Area Redevelopment Plan or the light rail transit study.
Crouse is looking forward at the 2014/2015 update of the municipal development plan to set-up St. Albert’s future.
“That is basically the plan that sets ourselves up to be 200 years old,” he said, calling his vision “toward 200.”
The MDP update will have a significant public input process he said, and will plan out the next few decades of St. Albert’s development.
“It’s a public process, it’s a planning process,” Crouse said.
Bradley thinks a long term strategic plan that addresses infrastructure, affordable housing, tax policy, utility rates, transit needs and more should be completed for St. Albert.
“We need a long-term strategic plan that manages the growth and addresses economic, social and environmental ideals to maintain our standard of living,” Bradley said.
He noted that there are developments in St. Albert that clearly could have turned out better with a plan or plans being revised, giving the example of north St. Albert and the Erin Ridge area.
Brodhead would like to see a process that’s clear and linear for developers, but wants to maintain engineering and development standards that help keep St. Albert one of the most desirable communities to live in.
“The pressure is unrelenting to revoke those standards,” he said, but said the process does need to be revised for developers. He’d like to see more of a housing mix in St. Albert as well.
When it comes to the municipal planning commission, Brodhead wants the debate reopened to look at the pros and cons. He noted currently while big plans like area structure plans and the municipal development plan does come to council with a public process, at a subdivision level it’s administration that’s the authority, taking the debate behind closed doors.
Burke thinks any long-term plan needs to accommodate for growth but be flexible in case things change.
“It’s important for long term growth. You need to have a plan but also things can change from forecast to forecast, so budget, fiscal responsibility, that’s important as well,” Burke said.
She thinks any long-term planning needs to see collaboration with stakeholders and that you need to plan for infrastructure and sustainability.
“It’s got to be collective. It’s not going to be one voice,” she said.
“I think instead of expensive studies and land acquisitions we should have blueprints and potentially right away easements when it comes to land planning,” Cassidy said. “When it comes to upgrading facilities and what not, I don’t believe in having long-term reserve funds in today’s dollars for something down the road.”
He thinks having a municipal planning commission would be ideal and the public should have more input into the city’s direction.
Taking a look at how demographics are shifting and planning accordingly is also important, Cassidy said.
Community and regional planning are both important to Climenhaga.
“Your planning needs to express fundamental community values and goals,” he said, including trying to provide reasonable certainty to people that their neighbourhood’s character will be preserved. He suggested having a several decade horizon when thinking about community values.
Considering how changes in one area could impact others – giving the example of the impact of Ray Gibbon Drive’s opening on traffic patterns in nearby communities – is another area Climenhaga thinks needs to be addressed.
He believes regional planning is important as well as a forum for debate.
“Good quality regional planning where everybody has a voice in decisions that are made by other municipalities is important,” he said.
Durham would like to look at bringing back the planning commission.
When it comes to current planning in the city, he thinks in some areas it’s short-sighted while in others – like the LRT study – planning is too long term.
Bringing back the MPC could help with communication and public input into the process, he said.
“There’s a lot of people that get upset because things seem to get sprung on people rather than know what our long term plans are,” he said. “We need to return to some more long-term planning and actually stick to it rather than change our minds every five minutes.”
The city doesn’t seem to have any long term plans or vision to Goldsmith. He’d like to see a municipal planning commission come back – with a twist.
“I’d like to actually see a municipal planning and development commission so that planning is done and the development is aligned and integrated with the plan,” Goldsmith said, adding that would open up more dialogue with the community.
Any long term plan should look at the consequences of population growth and where things will be located, what kind of social programs are needed, emergency services growth and other alignments, he said.
He’d like to see a cap on capital project funding so taxpayers don’t end up front-end loading too many projects. Goldsmith would also want studies like traffic impact assessments done before deciding where to place infrastructure or approve changes instead of after.
“The city’s long-term planning is excellent. We have long-term plans for transit, Servus Place, seniors’ housing, LRT, DARP, heritage, culture and the arts. We have a long-term plan for infrastructure, road building and parks … however I don’t agree with many of the plans,” Harley said. “The process is excellent. Our taxes are high because we’re trying to be all things to all people.”
Harley said one area that does appear to be lacking is succession planning, noting recent staff turnover means many new employees.
“We need essential services for sure and everyone’s willing to pay for them. It’s the other things we don’t need,” Harley said.
Heron said the city needs to anticipate future developments so it can be prepared to respond in terms of infrastructure planning.
“We’ve had some successes and failures along those lines,” she said. St. Albert is in the process of developing something called an integrated community sustainability plan, something she said looks at ecological, social and economic factors.
“I think it will be a critical tool for us in the future,” she said. Heron’s hoping a vision document will involve extensive community participation and that document would be referenced back to for future decision-making.
“We’ve had a little bit of ad hoc reactive planning,” Heron said. “Without the big picture it’s really hard to make those kinds of decisions.”
Without a municipal planning commission, Hughes thinks “we don’t have processes that we used to have to make sure that we’re making sound decisions.”
Current short and long term decision making processes need to be improved, Hughes said.
When planning, the city needs to be realistic about what it can afford, suggesting the LRT study is an example of unnecessary spending.
“Just try and make things a lot more common sense approach and more feasible and realistic,” she said. She’d like to resurrect the MPC and improve communication with residents, perhaps even utilizing technology like online polling.
“People who live here have invested their lives,” Hughes said.
Jones would like to see the municipal planning commission resurrected, but with more members of the public added. He’d want at least three public members-at-large.
Bringing back the commission would help streamline the process because council, which would have members sitting on the commission, would be more involved with the whole process and hence be more informed.
“At the present time council’s not really involved in anything to do with planning until administration brings it forward to chambers,” Jones said.
Jones said it’s likely other steps in long-term planning would come up while resurrecting the MPC.
“This is the most important step forward,” Jones said.
There are three things MacKay sees as essential: doing long-term planning, letting it evolve as the city changes and involving the public.
“We’ve had some planning problems in the recent past and a lot of it stems from those three things not being adhered to,” he said. Plans should be revised periodically, he said.
MacKay would like to bring back the municipal planning commission, adding it can be a more informal way to give feedback rather than council formally rejecting amendments and changes.
Since being elected, MacKay said he’s taken planning courses.
“At the end of the day how you plan your city really effects everything,” MacKay said. He’d prefer to see high density development closer to St. Albert Trail rather than on the edges of the city.
“We’ve got a lopsided city now,” MacKay said.
Osborne would like to see the city find the right balance between the needs of the community and the needs of the developers.
To that end, he’d like to find development partners that are interested in growting the community in a sustainable fashion.
“I do think we need to find a way to give residents a greater voice in the process, whether or not we return to the municipal planning commission or another mechanism,” Osborne said.
When planning new neighbourhoods Osborne would like to take a look at things like walkability, transit, bike friendliness and other innovations.
He’d like the city to be consistent with its plan once a vision is determined instead of allowing changes just because a developer thinks one type of housing is more marketable than another.
“Once we decide what we want and what our vision is, we need to stick to it,” Osborne said.
Planning needs to start with a vision of what people want St. Albert to look like 20 or 30 years from now, Parker said. Once that vision is established, council needs to give direction to administration using what they’ve heard from the public.
The long term plans for various city departments need to align with that vision and with each other, Parker said.
“We have to really start looking at how we can be more efficient in our administration and in our regulatory processes,” Parker said, adding the process should be more friendly.
The city needs to be flexible in its planning, Parker said.
He’d be willing to consider a return to the municipal planning commission, but would want a discussion first as he’d prefer to not create another level of bureaucracy for development.
He said annexation might be a part of the long-term plan, noting there’s not a lot more room for St. Albert to grow.
If you don’t have a plan, Prefontaine said, you often don’t end up where you intended.
Since every city department has a master plan, he thinks residents need to be included in the overall plan and all the elements need to be brought together to form an overall vision.
“I do believe that’s something that we’ve struggled with as a city, is really being able to articulate what the future of St. Albert looks like for residents and by residents,” Prefontaine said. “You need to ensure there’s clarity in whatever that vision is.”
A vision shouldn’t just be developed by council and administration, Prefontaine said. Residents need to be engaged as well.
Russell would like to see certainty in long-term planning “because we’ve switched plans so often.”
“Without a long term plan we really don’t know where we’re going,” Russell said.
He’d like to bring back the municipal planning commission and it’s first task should be to develop a long term plan, he said. He thinks that process could also include finding out what the general public approval for the master plans are.
Russell said having an MPC would also help give our neighbouring municipalities a head’s up on what’s being planned.
“I think we’re heading for a lot of head-butting with the county unless we do some long-term planning and do it publically,” Russell said.