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New principles approved for downtown engineering

Utilities under roadway, more streetscape amenities for new downtown developments

By: Victoria Paterson

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 09, 2014 06:00 am

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A discussion of new engineering principles for St. Albert’s downtown core turned into a proxy for debate on high density housing on Monday night.

Council voted 6-1 to amend the city’s engineering design guiding principles to include some altered standards that specifically apply to the area defined in the downtown area redevelopment plan (DARP).

The changes will “support standards that will build a beautiful, green, vibrant downtown,” said Greg Persson, manager of engineering services for the city.

The amendments allow for underground utilities to be installed within the roadway in the downtown area. Currently all the utilities are installed in the boulevards – and for the rest of St. Albert, that will still be the case.

The amendments also up the landscape planting and streetscape amenities required in the downtown area if utilities are installed in the roadways.

Persson cautioned that developing unique downtown municipal engineering standards would take time and research to prepare. The items approved by council on Monday were updates to the guiding principles, not engineering standards.

Mark Reid of Urban Strategies Inc. appeared to speak in support of the development of a unique set of municipal engineering standards for the downtown area on behalf of his client, Amacon, which is redeveloping the Grandin mall site.

They’d like to see municipal engineering standards for the downtown area that will allow a closer building-to-building face by moving the deep utilities into the road. The current requirement to put them in the boulevards creates a wide building-to-building face.

“It’s actually preventing us from creating that intimate character,” Reid said.

Coun. Sheena Hughes said what Reid might call intimate, “I call claustrophobic.”

She questioned if new downtown engineering standards are superior, then they should apply to the whole city and not just the downtown area.

Hughes also raised concerns that the standards and guiding principles were being changed just to benefit the Grandin mall redevelopment, though was told these would apply to the whole DARP area.

Hughes had said most people prefer more space, not being closer to their neighbours. Others in council pointed out high density living is preferred by some.

“This is living for many, many people,” said Coun. Gilles Prefontaine, pointing out many love being able to leave their condos and walk across the street to a café or other amenities.

“I think densification is important,” said Coun. Tim Osborne, who pointed out high density living might not be for everyone, but it is for some.

Coun. Wes Brodhead said it gives options in St. Albert to those who prefer high density areas.

“Quite honestly it’s better use of our land,” Brodhead said.

Coun. Cathy Heron asked staff if putting the utilities in the road makes for a better road, and was told yes.

She highlighted the pedestrian-focus of DARP and noted the current principles and standards don’t match up to that.

“The entire point of DARP is to encourage pedestrianism,” she said, noting denser developments are a worldwide trend.

“We have an entire big downtown we’re trying to redevelop,” she said.

Coun. Cam MacKay noted that digging up the road to repair utilities wouldn’t be cheaper, but did acknowledge the point made during discussion that there would be more revenue per square foot from denser development.

Hughes was the lone vote against approving the amendments to the engineering design guiding principles.


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