Erin Ridge residents were gobsmacked to learn the proposed school site on Eldorado Park has grown from the original 2.99 acres to a 3.5 acre footprint outlined on a draft site plan.
“I kind of feel a little bit blindsided by everything we heard tonight,” said resident Sandy Scott, who was speaking during the beginning of a public hearing to address proposed amendments that would change all of Eldorado Park to a public and private district designation that would allow the regional francophone school to be placed anywhere on the park.
“We repeatedly asked will this school fit on this parcel of land. And we were told yes,” Scott said. “We feel like we’ve been lied to.”
Under current zoning, the school could only be placed on the northeast corner of the park. Residents have previously been assured the school would remain at a 2.99 acre footprint.
The draft site plan shown for information during the public hearing on Monday showed a two-storey building on a 3.5 acre footprint along the west side of the park. Council and the public were told the west side location would allow for reduced traffic impact on the neighbourhood and provide longer on-site bus lanes and drop off area.
Councillors said Monday night was the first time they’d seen the proposed site plan as well.
“Before we were told that 2.99 acres was more than sufficient,” Coun. Cam MacKay said. “I’m amazed it shows up here today this size (3.5 acres).”
Several speakers and a bushel full of letters and emails submitted for the public hearing were against the redistricting of the entire park.
The flavours of objections varied from outright statements that the school shouldn’t be in the park to more mild pleas for only the necessary area be rezoned, rather than put the entire park into a redistricting.
Speakers after Scott reiterated their surprise and anger at the site size change as well as their objections to the changes.
“I have to say I now feel sick to my stomach knowing what can be done by the city to its residents,” said Donni Marano. “Please don’t let us down again by giving away our remaining park space.”
Staff were grilled about the public consultation process followed in the announcement of the area structure plan amendment application from Alberta Infrastructure. Director of planning and development Carol Bergum said the policy had been followed as she considers rezoning a minor amendment.
Bergum said during her presentation that the application is to allow flexibility for where the school site will be located to address traffic issues in the Erin Ridge area.
“With this particular school site in Erin Ridge, we recognize there were existing traffic and parking issues,” Bergum said.
When asked by council, Bergum said if necessary the school site could be located on the original northeast corner parcel but there would be some challenges involved.
Councillors read a few notices of motion, with Coun. Wes Brodhead suggesting a parking ban along a portion of Erin Ridge Drive and Coun. Cathy Heron and MacKay putting forward related motions to keep the parcel the original size and rezone the rest of the area back to park.
While council opened the public hearing, they did not proceed with any readings of the two bylaws before them thanks to a motion from MacKay. His motion postponed first reading of the bylaws until Feb. 18.
MacKay said it was so the city could better comply with council’s public consultation policy, as he felt it hadn’t been followed.
“I just feel if council’s going to have any credibility, it has to show leadership,” MacKay said. “By doing this, we have the ability to comply with our own policies and regain some of the trust of the community.”
While not all of the councillors agreed with the idea the policy hadn’t been followed, most of them said they didn’t feel comfortable voting on the bylaw as they’d just gotten new information.
“I think we need time,” Coun. Tim Osborne said.
“I’m feeling rushed,” Coun. Gilles Prefontaine added.
The motion to postpone first reading until Feb. 18 was passed by a 6-1 vote, with Mayor Nolan Crouse the lone dissenter.
The public hearing had been scheduled to adjourn until Feb. 18 anyway, allowing time for the public to participate in the traffic study workshop on Thursday evening at King of Kings Lutheran Church. The public hearing will start at 5 p.m. on Feb. 18. Those who spoke Monday night will be able to speak again only if they have new information.
On Tuesday morning, Crouse said he would have to address the accusations and innuendos that city staff have been lying.
“If it continues I’ve got to address it,” Crouse said, noting if someone has proof of lying he’d like to see it brought forward.
“I don’t believe we’re being lied to,” he said. City staff have an obligation to tell council the truth so council can make the right decision, he said.
Bergum said Tuesday the city had received the draft drawings from Alberta Infrastructure around Jan. 17.
“Neither of us really knew (before). They were trying to do the drawings and keep it as tight as they could,” Bergum said.