St. Albert’s mayoral candidates have different views on affordable housing.
Incumbent Nolan Crouse feels the current council has done a good job by helping various affordable housing projects in the last three years and he’s looking forward to continuing on the same path if he’s re-elected as mayor.
“It’s a little bit of everything and that’s what we have to tackle,” Crouse said.
Challenger Shelley Biermanski wants to change the city’s affordable housing focus.
“My stand is to make everyone’s homes affordable and then work on affordable housing,” she said.
The previous council, on which Crouse was a councillor, legalized basement suites in 2007. Since then council has provided or pledged about $4.4 million (mainly from provincial affordable housing grants) toward several projects: two Habitat for Humanity duplexes in North Ridge, a proposed 24-unit Habitat project in Akinsdale, a 96-unit apartment complex in North Ridge and a 42-unit addition for disabled adults at North Ridge Lodge.
Council also approved a rezoning that opened the door for the newly complete Rosedale development on Hebert Road, Crouse said. And this month council approved a 96-unit apartment complex to be built by a private developer, he noted.
“I believe we’ve made a lot of progress in moving this agenda forward,” he said. “This is not easy stuff.”
Biermanski’s assessment of the city’s work isn’t complimentary.
“I think it’s terrible so far,” she said.
She thinks municipalities, including St. Albert, are simply “throwing money at charities” to take care of the problem.
She wants to implement zero-based budgeting and trim unneeded spending to reduce the property tax burden for St. Albert residents who already own homes.
“There has to be a way of lowering the price of services and taxes,” she said. “I haven’t seen where they spend all their money yet. There’s probably too much spent on a lot of things.”
Consulting and social events were two areas she would target.
Crouse has asked city administration for a homeless count by the end of October.
“Part of my vision, if I’m back as mayor, is to completely end homelessness [in St. Albert],” he said.
Planning and zoning
Crouse thinks affordable housing initiatives should be pursued through a combination of infill projects and those in newly developed areas. Biermanski is not in favour of infill.
Both candidates feel the city can help broaden the housing options on the market by addressing areas like lot sizes in the land use bylaw.
“That’s a great direction to go in,” Biermanski said. “Then you have neighbourhoods where it’s planned. You’re not trying to distort what’s already there.”
In 2005 city council approved land use bylaw changes that allowed smaller lots and restricted the size of homes on those lots to 137 sq. metres (1,475 sq. ft.) However, in April of last year council lifted the house size restriction under pressure from developers. Crouse voted against that change.
“We have a job to do but we also can’t be manipulating the market too much,” he said.
70 Arlington Dr.
The highest profile affordable housing project of late has been 70 Arlington Dr. Both candidates felt the Habitat for Humanity project should have been handled differently.
The project first became public last fall when Habitat for Humanity held an open house to share its concept for a 63-unit townhouse project. Neighbourhood anger caused that number to erode to 58, then 34, 30 and now 24, which Habitat is now reviewing.
The process included two open houses, five emotional evenings of public hearings and a design charette that Akinsdale residents call a charade because their recommendation of 12 to 16 units wasn’t accepted.
Biermanski, who lives on Arlington Drive herself, has been highly critical of council’s approach.
“I would not have brought in Habitat because I think they’re on an agenda now to do [larger]types of buildings,” she said. “I would never have planned a project of [63 units] ever, in any neighbourhood,” she said. “That’s changing a neighbourhood too drastically.”
Crouse said the city followed its consultation process to the letter but clearly needs a new process.
“There’s a little manual on how to work on a NIMBY project and that’s not the manual that we follow. We have our own manual and it’s not good enough,” he said.
He wants to make two changes if re-elected: bring in a new consultation process that would put roundtable input as the first step and adopt infill guidelines that lay out a process for developing in existing neighbourhoods.
Crouse acknowledged that council’s handling of Arlington could be perceived as wavering but he said council didn’t back off on its desire to do something on the land.
“We’ve done some heavy lifting on this one and I’m ready to take it to the next step,” he said.
Biermanski would like to see the project shelved.
“I’m totally against the project,” she said. “I think they should just admit they were wrong.”