St. Albert will keep a consultant on retainer to evaluate proposals for downtown development until the workload increases, at which point a different method will be incorporated.
Council voted Monday night in favour of contracting an urban designer to review development permit applications for proposed projects in the downtown that might impact its urban design quality.
In so doing, councillors also freed up $10,500 from the council contingency fund as a retainer for whoever is brought on board as a consultant. That person will work on an as-needed basis, depending on how many projects are proposed for downtown at any given time.
Once the city has amended both the land use bylaw (LUB) and the municipal development plan (MDP) to incorporate policies outlined in the most recent update to the downtown area redevelopment plan (DARP), council will look at establishing a downtown design panel to deal with development activity in the area.
“We hire the help as needed if a project comes along so it can move forward quickly and move along with DARP activities,” Mayor Nolan Crouse said.
That individual will be responsible for assessing each permit as it pertains to guidelines outlined in DARP, such as ground-level access and architectural concerns, all with the goal of increasing the accessibility and character of the downtown.
“I’m pretty happy with this as it inches along,” said Crouse, who was a driving force behind the newest iteration of DARP. “DARP doesn’t need to be an evil word. It’s a vision, a bylaw put in place and there has now been a lot of money spent in the downtown.”
According to a presentation from senior long-range planner Martin Frigo, a survey was conducted asking if interested parties would like to see a consultant, a panel, a new staff member, a volunteer panel or the city use the current process. The results indicated that a panel was most preferred, with a contract urban designer coming in second. An on-staff designer and a volunteer advisory panel were the least preferred.
Coun. Malcolm Parker asked both Frigo and Curtis Cundy, the city’s director of planning and development, why the city should not just proceed with a panel approach. Cundy replied the volume of development permits does not yet merit having more than one person tasked with the approach. And, he added, assembling a panel with the necessary level of expertise in architecture, urban design and planning could take some time.
“If you’re looking for volunteers with that skill set, we have to have a level of applications that would justify their involvement,” Cundy said.
The planning department also wanted a decision from council Monday night so it could shepherd in the next phase of the DARP process, which is making the necessary amendments to the MDP and LUB to state what kind of development will be permitted in the downtown.
“I don’t want to wait for someone to come banging on our door and we don’t know how to guide them,” Parker said.
“This gives us an opportunity to move forward in a staged way, working through the issues,” agreed Coun. Wes Broadhead.