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    Categories: Local News

Akinsdale residents gear up for fight

Resistance is mounting to a proposed affordable housing complex in Akinsdale, where citizens are organizing a petition as well as circulating flyers and emails.

Concerns about loss of green space, reduced property values, increased traffic and excess street parking are dominating the long list of grievances residents are sharing about the potential development of 70 Arlington Dr. The Protestant school district is trying to sell the 1.2-hectare property to Habitat For Humanity Edmonton and Apollo Developments so the partners can build a two-storey townhouse complex with 58 units.

“Everybody I ever talk to in Akinsdale is pretty much against the development,” said resident Gerry Kress.

Kress has drafted a petition and is organizing volunteers to gather signatures in Akinsdale. An earlier petition circulated by another resident had already garnered about 70 signatures but it didn’t conform to official rules so residents are starting over, Kress said.

City council will hear a report on the issue on Feb. 16 and a public hearing will follow on March 15. Akinsdale residents have successfully fought off two developments on the land in the last 10 years — an 80-bed assisted living complex in 2005 and 30 bungalow-style duplexes in 2000.

Many hope to do the same this time around.

“They’re not against Habitat or anything, it’s just that what they’re proposing for that small space isn’t for our community,” Kress said. “For the most part they want to keep it as green space because it’s been that way for years.”

Many residents feel that Akinsdale already has enough multi-family homes and has lost enough green space to the development of Anthony Henday Drive.

“The community is really angry over this because we feel we are already a marginalized community,” said resident Keri McEachern, a single mother who lives down the street from the proposed site.

She thinks the project should be built in a new area of town where there’s infrastructure in place to support the number of new residents.

“I’m glad that the people in the community are banding together to fight this,” she said. “We are not against the thought of affordable housing in St. Albert but this is not the community to do it in.”

Akinsdale residents feel they are reacting the same as any residents would if faced with this proposal in their neighbourhood.

“We’re not NIMBYs [Not In My Backyard], we’re NIOPs — Not In Our Park,” said resident Dave Evans. “Really, what we’re trying to do is to save our green space.”

Mayor Nolan Crouse said he’s received about 50 emails and phone calls on the subject, roughly split 50-50 between those in favour and opposed. He noted the support seems to be coming from people who live outside Akinsdale.

Crouse said his vote will depend on satisfactory answers to technical issues like parking and traffic and then consideration about how the project works for St. Albert.

“If the technical issues are solved then … I will be wearing a city hat from that point,” he said.

The concept

The proposed development is a joint venture between Habitat For Humanity and Apollo, a private developer. Habitat would fill 15 units through its application process while Apollo would sell the other units on the open market for 20 per cent below market value.

The funding model would see these homeowners put down a five per cent deposit and take out a conventional mortgage for 75 per cent of the property’s value. Habitat would hold a second mortgage for the remaining 20 per cent, which would not require payments but would have to be paid back whenever the unit is sold.

Habitat president & CEO Alfred Nikolai said he’d rather see unanimous support for the project but isn’t surprised by the neighbours’ opposition.

“Our point has always been what is the greater good for the community?” he said. “We’re still very confident that when the citizens of St. Albert look at this as a community thing, that they’re going to applaud it and embrace it.”

If the land is successfully rezoned, Habitat has agreed to buy it for $840,000 using money the city donated from its share of provincial affordable housing grants.

History

The Protestant school district acquired the land from Qualico in 1974 for a nominal sale price, likely $1, plus nearly $30,000 in outstanding servicing costs, said superintendent Barry Wowk.

The district began paying taxes on the land in 1996 and now pays about $10,000 a year. The land must be rezoned to allow for development.

The school board’s position is that the land is an asset that they want to sell to maximize the benefit for their students, said chair Morag Pansegrau earlier this month.

Facts and figures

The city’s 2008 census showed that 25 per cent of the homes in Akinsdale are multi-family units. This places it sixth among St. Albert’s existing neighbourhoods.

Akinsdale is also sixth in terms of density but these statistics assume the neighbourhoods are fully built-out according to their current zoning, which Kingswood and North Ridge are not.

In terms of raw numbers, Akinsdale has 415 multi-family homes, putting it second only to Grandin’s 1,546.

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