Big bill for Sturgeon Valley

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Levies set to more than double to $56,000 per lot

The Sturgeon Valley needs about $52 million in upgrades for future growth, says a report to county council, and the county might have to more than double its levies in order to get the money.

County council voted 4-0 Tuesday in favour of first reading for the Sturgeon Valley off-site levy bylaw. Mayor Don Rigney was absent. Coun. Don McGeachy abstained from voting due to a potential conflict of interest.

The bylaw, if passed, would see developers fork over about $56,000 per lot in off-site levies for new homes in the valley region – more than twice the $22,000 they paid in 2005.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, said Ed Basaraba, president of Pinnacorp Investments Inc., the developer behind the valley’s Pinnacle Ridge Estates, one he said could choke off future growth. “To increase that much makes the sales drop right off.”

But it’s necessary, said Bill Minnes of Bradwill Consultants, which is involved with the proposed Green Hennessy development in the valley. “The valley’s really at a point now where the infrastructure doesn’t support any more development.” If developers want more homes in the valley, he continued, they will have to pay for more infrastructure.

Off-site levies are fees charged by governments to fund road and sewer improvements needed to support new development. Developers typically pass these costs onto homebuyers.

About 575 new lots are proposed for development in the valley in the next five years, said Hassan Shaheen of ISL Engineering and Land Services in a presentation to council.

That will mean many more cars on the roads that lead into the region, he continued, particularly R.R. 250 to Edmonton and Sturgeon Road to St. Albert, both of which will be overcapacity.

Shaheen proposed a series of upgrades to handle the traffic. First, the county should build the first phase of the realigned 127th St. from Edmonton and pave the two roads that connect with it, reducing congestion on R.R. 250 and Sturgeon. The county should also change where Starkey Road meets Hwy. 37 to reduce collisions, add a roundabout and traffic lights to two points of Sturgeon, and pave parts of Coal Mine Road.

These improvements would cost about $33.4 million, Shaheen said. Of that, he said, developers should pay slightly more than half ($16.8 million).

The valley region also needed better pipes and sewers. The Allin Ridge and Summerbrook reservoirs are currently at capacity, David Yue of Sameng Inc. told council, and nearly ran out of water last summer.

Yue proposed to essentially double the capacity of the Allin Ridge reservoir, improve pump stations, lay more pipe and beef up the region’s sewage lift stations for about $18.4 million, of which he recommended developers pay $15.2 million. Doing so would meet future water demands and provide the region with fire protection – the region does not currently have enough water to support its fire hydrants.

The total bill comes to $51.8 million, said administration’s report to council, of which developers would pay 61 per cent ($31.9 million). That works out to $55,704 per lot in levies — developers paid $22,425 in levies per lot in the valley in 2005.

Timing

It would take the county a long time to get this money, Basaraba said in an interview, given that just 40 to 45 lots get developed in the valley each year. At that rate, it will be about 21 years before all the homes the county is preparing for, plus the ones already on the market, get built.

Developers could pay their levies in advance, he continued, but none in the valley have agreed to do so. “Does the county front-end (the cost) of all these improvements?” It would be better if the county phased in this levy hike instead of doing it all at once, he said.

The county also proposes to charge all developers equally, he continued, even though some improvements, such as building 127th St., would only benefit a few developments. “That doesn’t seem very fair.”

The county’s proposal seems fair, Minnes said, and he was encouraged that it included fire-water capacity at the Allin Ridge reservoir. “Fire protection is something that’s long overdue.”

His clients were confident that these levies would not affect the marketability of their lots, Minnes said. Future developments would have to be higher density to make these levies work, however.

Coun. Tom Flynn said he expected to get a lot of calls from developers about this proposal, and mused that council might need to hold a public hearing. “We may end up doing a lot of adjustments on it.”

The proposed levies return to council on Dec. 11.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.