A controversial 80-unit condo project near Red Willow Park got a preliminary green light from city council on Monday despite fierce opposition from residents in the Braeside neighbourhood.
During Monday’s city council meeting, councillors agreed in a 4-3 vote to approve an amendment to the city’s land use bylaw to rezone the three lots from low-density residential to medium-density in order to allow single-family homes on each property to be switched out for the condo complex.
More than 20 residents turned out to Monday’s public hearing on the rezoning, with five people speaking against the proposed development and two speaking in favour. Many of the speakers also shared their concerns on Nov. 20.
Residents’ concerns have included environmental impact of the project, increased traffic on Sturgeon Road and how the development could change the character of the Braeside neighbourhood.
Matthew Wheatley, who spoke on behalf of the Friends of the St. Albert River Valley, called for a conservation plan to be put in place for the valley and urged councillors to take into consideration the cumulative effects of developing the valley instead of just one project.
“Densification can happen anywhere in the city; the river valley can’t,” he said.
The proposed development, slated for three single family lots at 53, 55 and 57 Sturgeon Road, has been making waves since residents first heard about it at an open house two years ago. A land swap of parkland associated with the project was shot down by councillors on Nov. 20.
While rezoning has been approved, the developer will still need to acquire proper permits, such as a development permit, before the project can proceed.
Fighting urban sprawl
The push for St. Albert to meet density targets set out by the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board (EMRB) and prevent urban sprawl led councillors Natalie Joly, Wes Brodhead and Ray Watkins, as well as Mayor Cathy Heron, to vote in favour of rezoning the properties.
Heron said the city needs to find a responsible way to grow and the low-residential zoning promotes urban sprawl.
She added the proposed condo development “checks boxes” in terms of density targets.
“I don’t see a threat to the entire river valley system by this one development,” she said.
The EMRB, formerly known as the Capital Region Board, has set a target in its new regional growth plan for communities in the Edmonton metro area to aim to have infill comprise 17.5 per cent of overall growth each year.
Watkins pointed to that target, as well as the fact the development is on the outskirts of Braeside, as reasons why he supported the rezoning. He added the city can still ask for other studies to be done when the developer applies for a development permit.
“I think if the city does their job … this can be successful and beneficial to all,” he said.
Greg MacKenzie, project consultant, told council the city could require the developer to submit plans such as an environmental assessment or geotechnical study when they apply for a development permit.
“The development authority has the ability to require … any documents considered necessary to ensure the development is appropriate and does not have a negative impact on the river,” he said.
He added the development would not have any direct discharge into the river and water would have to be managed on-site in compliance with the city’s engineering standards. The developer would likely install a stormwater pond.
Brodhead said the decision to rezone the properties was a difficult one but allowing higher density housing is in the best interest of St. Albert, noting the properties are already zoned and developed and there are other medium-density properties in the area.
“We have to consider how to build the community of the future with densification being part of the equation,” he said.
“The reality of it is that this council cannot avoid decisions like this.”
Joly described the argument that higher density should not happen in established neighbourhoods as “short-sighted.”
“I want us to have a sustainable community, and part of that is making sure my kids have access to neighbourhoods that are walkable, that our whole system is sustainable,” she said.
Leah Kongsrude, director of environment for the city, said the development would not have a direct impact on the river.
“The best thing we can do to reduce environmental impacts overall in communities is to densify our developments,” she said.
No conservation plan
Councillors Ken MacKay, Jacquie Hansen and Sheena Hughes voted against the rezoning due to the lack of a conservation plan for the Sturgeon River valley, as well as concern about what impact continued development could have on the valley’s ecosystem.
MacKay said the future of the river is uncertain and is already experiencing negative effects such as declining water levels and poor water quality.
“I just think there’s too much we don’t know and too much at risk with our river valley,” he said.
Hughes said she’s concerned about how little green space here is in St. Albert and said the Edmonton metro board targets should not be used to justify higher density housing along the river valley.
“How do you destroy a river valley? You do it one approval at a time,” she said.
“The impact of it will be permanent.”
Hansen, who voted in favour of the first reading of the bylaw to rezone the properties, said while she does not think the development will “diminish” the river valley, she wants to see some lower-density options for those properties.
Hansen said the lack of a comprehensive plan for the Sturgeon River meant she could not vote in favour of rezoning.