A group of residents in the Braeside neighbourhood are rising to the challenge of defining the Sturgeon River valley as they oppose a contentious 80-unit condo development in their neighbourhood.
In an effort to give context to the environmental concerns they have with the development, the group created a map defining the river valley as 10 metres above the water level, further buffered by 25 metres. By that definition, 70 per cent of St. Albert’s river valley is already developed.
Matthew Wheatley, who helped develop the map, said the aim is to get councillors thinking about the environmental impacts the proposed project in Braeside – and other developments in general – could have.
“Given that we’ve taken a run at defining the valley, the first question is, how much (development) is too much?” he said.
“I know a lot of the group would like to see a halt on development within the valley until there is a better understanding of a conservation plan.”
Marilyn Wangler is one of those residents. She said councillors have a responsibility to do a scientific assessment of the river valley before any more developments are approved.
Residents also hope to see an environmental assessment done on the land the development would be built on before the project goes forward.
Wheatley will give a presentation to council on Monday when the second and third readings of a bylaw to redistrict 53, 55 and 57 Sturgeon Road for the condo development come forward. The lots need to be zoned as higher density in order to allow for the condo development.
The proposed project has received support from some residents and opposition from others. When the bylaw’s first reading passed through council on Nov. 20, councillors asked the residents some questions Wheatley says they weren’t ready for: how to define the river valley, what the ecological state of it is and what residents would rather see there.
“I was really struck by the fact that council was proceeding to approve development within that area, but were also asking those exact questions themselves,” he said.
“The hope of the group was that … more information gets added to the decision-making process, specifically with regard to understanding the level of development.”
Currently, there is no conservation plan for the Sturgeon River valley. In St. Albert, councillors take into consideration other documents such as the environmental master plan or municipal development plan when making decisions.
Resident Lydia Hodgson said the group wants to address a lack of broader understanding about what the city is doing to its river valley.
“It’s almost like each development is not a big deal on its own, but when they put them all together, it’s untenable,” she said.
“Truly … we’re wanting them to aim for smart density.”
Other issues residents have with the proposed Braeside development include traffic concerns and how the higher density will alter the character of the community.
Greg MacKenzie, project consultant for the condo development, was not available by press time for comment.
Councillors split on rezoning
Council approved the first reading of the bylaw to rezone the lots on Nov. 20, where councillors Wes Brodhead, Jacquie Hansen, Natalie Joly, Ray Watkins and Mayor Cathy Heron voted in favour of first reading. Councillors Sheena Hughes and Ken MacKay voted against the bylaw.
On Thursday, MacKay said he’s opposed to the development because of his environmental concerns.
“If that development were anywhere else, you would find me 100 per cent supportive of it,” he said.
“I’m concerned with the impact we have building along that river … I don’t think we have a really solid understanding of the impact that’s going to have on our watershed.”
On Nov. 20, Coun. Wes Brodhead said he wants to see council discuss a holistic river valley protection plan when it meets in January for its strategic planning session.
Brodhead said he supported first reading because St. Albert needs to meet its obligations to create higher density housing as set out by the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board.