Frustration over downtown marks start of ’90s

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The redevelopment of downtown St. Albert has been a hot topic in recent years, but the issue has stretched out much longer than that. In fact, same as they are today, city councillors wrestled with the issue in September 1990, when they deferred the approval of a revitalization plan for a second time. Mayor Anita Ratchinsky was angered by the delays, saying that plans to market the downtown core, slated to begin the following summer, were in jeopardy. Ald. Ray Gibbon also expressed his dismay: “My frustration has been fast developing to the point where I am going to drown in it.”

Meanwhile, another project was also on hold as a proposal for a new ice arena in St. Albert got a chilly reception from St. Albert city council. The $6-million twin rink was the subject of much debate among councillors, with perhaps the boiling point reached early that month when council voted to spend $50,000 to study the need for such a rink and other recreational facilities in the city. Two weeks later, council backtracked on the decision to conduct the study.

Around the same time, the City of St. Albert opened a new recycling depot at the public works yard in Campbell Business Park, and was overwhelmed by the response in the first two weeks.

In September 1992, St. Albert’s reputation for high taxes was confirmed as a new provincial government report pegged the city’s property taxes as the highest in the province at $1,845 per year. But it also noted that St. Albertans had the lowest utility rates in Alberta at an average of $319 per year, compared to $603 in Edmonton.

Staff at the Sturgeon General Hospital were feeling the pinch in September 1993 as 18 employees were laid off in an attempt to cut $346,000 from the budget. Others were reassigned to new positions, saving $67,000, while a private company was hired to receive, sort and distribute supplies throughout the hospital, saving $75,000.

More job concerns cropped up later in the month when the provincial government said it was looking to privatize the sale of liquor, creating fears that 130 local workers could be laid off from the Alberta Liquor Control Board’s warehouse in Campbell Business Park. The provincial government later allayed those fears, saying the warehouse would not be affected by privatization plans.

Residents of Grandin got their hackles up later in the month over a proposal to move the Palace Casino into Grandin Park Plaza. More than 600 people signed a petition opposing the move, hoping to sway the opinion of St. Albert’s Municipal Planning Commission, with late-night noise and potential crime being the main bones of contention. The application was eventually rejected.

In September 1994, a 15-year legal battle over Grandin Pond ended when a Court of Queen’s Bench justice found that the Despins family failed to prove their case that the City of St. Albert had attempted to purchase their land without paying compensation. But the family said they intended to appeal the case to the Alberta Court of Appeals and to the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary.

The city also unveiled a new land use bylaw in September 1994 that legalized bed-and-breakfasts and basement suites in the city.

In September 1995, then-premier Ralph Klein visited St. Albert to take in a rugby game, but found time between scrums to answer critics who claimed he was creating a two-tiered health care system. “I’m not talking about any kind of tiers. I’m talking about choices,” he said.

Tragedy struck that month when an ultralight aircraft crashed near Legal. Two men — St. Albert instructor Todd Liepert and student pilot Uwe Guhn — were killed when the plane’s engine cut out and it plunged 500 feet about 15 minutes after taking off from the St. Albert Airport. Another St. Albert man, Reg Lukasik, was involved in a crash later in the month, plunging his single-engine Piper Comanche into Cooking Lake, but he survived.

September 1995 also saw the iconic clock tower on Perron Street come to life after the final touches were placed on it.

While he has gained recognition with his work with Canadian Aid for Fire Services Abroad, local firefighter Victor Fernandez has been collecting kudos for his volunteer work for many years, as evidenced by the front page of the Sept. 21, 1996, Gazette. Fernandez was given a Meritorious Service Medal for his efforts that benefited several local service groups and causes.

Meanwhile, local AIDS advocate Rick Chalifoux passed away on Sept. 24, 1996, at the age of 25. He was named co-Citizen of the Year in 1995 for his work in spreading the message of AIDS awareness and prevention to St. Albert schools.

After a provincial election in 1997, RCMP charged the chief financial officer of the St. Albert Progressive Conservative Constituency Association when $30,000 that was intended to fuel Tory candidate Mary O’Neill’s campaign went missing. There were some concerns raised, however, as the fraud was not reported until after the race was over, which O’Neill won by only 16 votes over Liberal incumbent Len Bracko. The fallout was still being felt a year later when Liberal finance critic Sue Olsen called for an audit of the Tories’ ledgers.

Also in September 1997 came more allegations of froshing incidents gone too far at local high schools. Two young girls recalled being pelted with eggs and having hot sauce poured in their faces. A year later, students at Paul Kane High School walked out of their classes to protest the suspensions of three Grade 12 students in connection with froshing incidents.

Local Reform Party MP John Williams stirred up controversy in September 1998 by opting back into the MP pension plan, just three years after taking a principled stand against it and opting out. Some understood his decision, praising him as a hard-working MP, while others expressed disappointment.

That month also saw local efforts to save the historic Bruin Inn get a glimmer of hope when the provincial government stepped down at the 11th hour to save the build from demolition. The government served the owner with notice of intent to designate the building a registered historic resource, which, if approved, would mean alterations could not be made without first giving the province 90 days’ notice. But the actual decision on that would not come until early 1999.

Dog owners vowed to bite back at the city’s new leash law in September 1999, collecting names on a petition and lobbying city council to change their minds. One petition organizer said councillors betrayed dog owners because the law was passed despite a majority of them expressing opposition.

Amalgamation with Edmonton reared its ugly head again in September 1999, with St. Albert councillors warning Edmonton mayor Bill Smith to back off as he initiated a regional governance review. Mayor Paul Chalifoux and all six councillors signed an open letter that appeared in the Gazette that month vowing to fight any annexation attempts.

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St. Albert Gazette

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