Categories: Local News

Back alley talk paused

A pause has been put on debating a motion meant to re-emphasize the city’s position against back alleys.

Mayor Nolan Crouse had a motion on Tuesday’s agenda that would have sought additional provisions to reaffirm St. Albert’s previous position on back alleys, which is to not add any more in new developments.

The city’s position against adding more back alleys or lanes has been reaffirmed over the years, most recently in a vote last year to remove references to them in the Housing Diversity Action Plan. Lanes are currently not included in the city’s engineering standards.

But consultants helping the city with the process of a land use bylaw review suggested they could be included as part of an attempt to diversify housing types in St. Albert.

Several developers were present at Tuesday’s meeting, asking for the motion to be taken off the table and for council to consider back alleys during the land use bylaw review process.

“The pros and cons of back alleys seem to be very emotionally charged in St. Albert,” said Susan Monson. While she works for Melcor, on Tuesday she was representing the Edmonton branch of the Urban Development Institute.

She said lane housing products can be effective in some situations, but not in others.

“We want to reiterate that lane homes are just one option that we’d like to be considered,” she said, showing photos of mixed streetscapes.

St. Albert’s tax base is slowly eroding because many young people can’t afford a home here, she said.

“It isn’t about back alleys specifically, it’s mostly about housing diversity,” she said.

Other developers speaking at the meeting echoed Monson’s sentiments.

Paul Lannie, of the Averton Group, said he applauded the city for taking a look at the land-use bylaw, and said rear lane housing could offer a chance for lower priced, smaller lots that could mean lower price points attractive to young families.

“I think there’s an opportunity for high quality development, including rear lanes,” Lannie said.

Lannie and Monson were also joined in speaking by Courtney Jensen from Strata Developments and Jason Fjeldheim of Melcor. Other developers could be spotted in the gallery as well.

Fjeldheim said the group of developers at the meeting is confused, noting that a number of priorities identified by council, like affordable housing, being pro-business, increasing housing diversity or even adding more boulevard trees could be addressed by allowing back lanes as an option.

“With the land-use bylaw under review, this motion will stifle debate over lanes. If council would like St. Albert to stay the same, and continue to be a bedroom community of Edmonton, with high taxes and a median new house price of $698,000, then please, just tell us, it will save us all a lot of time and energy,” Fjeldheim said.

Ben Officer, a resident of St. Albert, one of the moderators of the popular Community of St. Albert Facebook page and a real estate agent in the Edmonton region, suggested council should vote against the mayor’s proposed motion.

He’d posted a question about back alleys on the Facebook page, sparking some vigorous discussion, and estimated the responses showed people were split about 50/50 on the topic.

He said it could mean more choices in the community if back alleys are allowed in certain neighbourhoods, noting his early experiences in home ownership in Calgary and Edmonton included back alleys.

“It just gave me more choice,” he said.

The mayor ultimately decided against moving forward the motion that night. Crouse said in an email he plans on bringing it back again but more information is needed first. He’s asked for information on topics like crime rates in back alleys and maintenance costs.

During the meeting he pointed out to some of the speakers that currently back alleys are not allowed in St. Albert beyond the seven kilometres of alleys that are already here.

He noted a staff background report, which provided an extensive history of back alleys all the way back to ancient civilizations was more “about the romance of back alleys” than information like a fiscal analysis or crime.

While there was no formal debate, councillors had several different information requests to add in preparation of future discussions.

Coun. Wes Brodhead reminded council of the city’s 2014 MoneySense ranking and suggested it should be kept in mind when reviewing the land-use bylaw.

“In the land-use bylaw update, don’t forget that we’re the best city to raise a family in the nation and I hate it when we all of a sudden take a look at ourselves and say we’re not good enough,” he said.

Coun. Cathy Heron also filed a notice of motion relating to the development of limits and engineering standards on back alleys in new areas.

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