I don’t think that St. Albert’s residents fully understand the significance of the 70 Arlington Dr. proposal or the impact it will have on their own future.
Akinsdale is not comprised of NIMBYs, elitists or racists, nor are we virulent or embarrassing. We are pensioners, young families, single parents, newcomers, teachers, soldiers and any other kind of person you would expect to find in a working-class neighbourhood. Somehow our concern over the proposed 58 condo units, only 15 of which are for Habitat for Humanity, being placed in our largest park, marks us as being against both Habitat and affordable housing. With its existing condos and duplexes Akinsdale already is ‘affordable housing.’ This project is not a small infill; this is a subdivision that is being placed in an aging neighbourhood. The intrusion, density, quality, access and affordability of the condos are all valid concerns to us. More than 600 people, about 99 per cent of those we could reach in our community, signed a petition against this project.
Our struggle has been going on for a very long time. For years there was a sign on the property that stated, “Site of a future school.” In the mid- to late-1970s, most of us bought our homes based on this promise. The five portables that were to be added to Elmer Gish School to handle our children soon grew to 11, and when that proved to be insufficient our children were bused to other schools. The portables are still there and in use almost 30 years later.
According to the Municipal Government Act, 10 per cent of a development has to be reserved for parks and schools. The developer recovers this financial loss by increasing the price of the development’s homes, so in reality it was the residents of Akinsdale who paid for this property. In 1985 the school division informed us that it intended to sell the land for residential development and it was entitled to do so because it owned the property outright. While the school division does have title, in reality it paid $1 for the property. The community expressed very strong disapproval at this proposed sale. School grounds provide most of the sports fields and many of the playgrounds in St. Albert’s parks. The loss of a school is bad enough; the loss of the grounds is devastating.
St. Albert’s municipal development plan states, “Where a municipal reserve parcel has been transferred to a school authority, and subsequently these lands are deemed unnecessary for school needs, that parcel shall be transferred in title back to the City of St. Albert for park purposes.” Now council is trying to convince us that the land never was a school reserve. Earlier documentation certainly refers to the property as a municipal reserve. Qualico believed that it was when it transferred the land.
I am surprised that we have not been called the ‘antichrist’ based on council’s insistence that we turned down a church for the property. I can tell you that it is an absolute falsehood. I was on a joint school division/community committee that was formed in June 1994 to come to an agreement regarding the property. In October 1994, the school division proposed a church. We took the proposal to the community and, in February 1995 out of 125 neighbouring homes, 115 voted in favour and 10 against. On May 9, the five-acre property was split with two acres being added to Attwood Park and three acres rezoned for a church. The church was to take up only 20 per cent of the three acres and there was to be 25 feet of green space separating the church and its parking from the existing residents. The church had far less density than the 70 Arlington Dr. proposal. Recently I asked the school board why the community was being blamed for the loss of a church? I was informed that a church was considered but it withdrew its offer in 1994 and the school division never considered a church after that. However, churches have expressed an interest over the years but to no avail.
Council states that 12.5 per cent of Akinsdale is recreational land and does not need this property. This percentage includes both the Akinsdale and Kinex arenas, as well as arena parking. The city’s municipal planning commission rejected this argument in 2000.
The truth is, this project is a small part of a much greater issue. By attempting to expedite this project, council has been frustrated by existing bylaws. Consequently, it has been proposed to rezone the property to direct control. This zoning enables council to approve developments of a scale that exceed what’s allowed under low- (R1 and R2) or medium-density (R3) zoning, and without any avenue for appeal by local residents. This should be a significant concern to all of St. Albert’s residents. I wonder whose green space is next, perhaps yours?
By contrast, a project this dense could not happen in Edmonton. The capital has strict rules, favouring residents, as to what can or cannot be built on its school reserves and surplus school sites, and it abides by those rules. Its ‘first place homeowners program’ provides far superior homes when compared to what this project will provide, and at the same cost without the large taxes.
On March 15, city council will vote on this project. Since 2008, city council, along with the administration, has created this project, found the land for it, got funding for it from the province and invited Habitat for Humanity to develop the site. Our community never had any input at all. With such a clear conflict of interest, council should not be making the decisions on this project. Our concerns that have been expressed in letters and emails do not appear to be having any impact. Any salesman will tell you that you probably don’t have a hope of making a sale if all you have is five minutes at the 11th hour to make your first presentation.
Like you, a major reason my neighbours and I chose to live in St. Albert was because of its ‘celebrated parks and trail systems’ and ‘quality schools,’ as stated on the city’s web page. If we lose this advantage, what is left to make St. Albert unique enough that its residents would be willing to pay 50 per cent or more in property taxes and services than what Edmontonians pay? A project of such size can and should be built where children can have the same amenities that we have all grown to expect and enjoy in our beautiful city; it should not be built on those amenities. Contrary to statements made by council, I do not believe that the majority of St. Albert’s residents support this proposal. It appears that we now have a council that does not place any value on what makes St. Albert special. If council goes against us, we will have to decide where we go from here. This is so wrong for all of us.