An opportunity for the city to control some land that is important to the Sturgeon River’s ecosystem was passed over by city council on Monday.
While some have said the decision was about saving Braeside parkland from condo development, it does mean that some riparian land will continue to be owned by a private developer. This is an issue that deserves further attention from city council and has long-term consequences as developments are considered along the river. As was noted during council discussions this week, the City of St. Albert does not have a plan for the Sturgeon River.
Grandin resident Ken Johnson who spoke at Monday’s council meeting said the city may have missed an opportunity to take control of land adjacent to the river. Council was considering a land swap that would have put sloped riparian land adjacent to Red Willow Trail in city control, while surrendering control of parkland adjacent to Sturgeon Road. The riparian land helps filter water before it enters the river system and the health of riparian land is often a reflection of the health of the river.
Johnson supported the proposed land swap.
“This is a rare opportunity, and I would actually hazard a guess that this opportunity to have that land added to the river valley will not come again. There just isn’t anything like it,” said Johnson, a planner, engineer and regular user of the Red Willow trails. He was one of more than 100 people who overflowed council chambers on Monday to speak on the issue.
In the end, city council agreed to rezone residential lots at 53, 55 and 57 Sturgeon Road to allow a condo development to proceed. But council opted not to trade sloped land at the back of the existing property for parkland that fronts onto Sturgeon Road east of the three lots.
Most people who spoke to city council on Monday were opposed to some aspect of the impact of the development including loss of parkland, increased traffic, changes in the character of the neighbourhood and higher density of people. Those are all valid concerns in any neighbourhood, and ones that the city needs to consider when making decisions. But city council also has a responsibility for maintaining a healthy river valley to support the healthy environment for plants, animals and people. Riparian land adjacent to rivers supports a healthy river system. Riparian land often supports a denser plant community because of nutrients from the river.
The city’s lack of a plan for the river is something that city council plans to address in the coming year when it sets priorities and plans. This is a necessary step that can help the city make sure that the health of the river figures prominently into future development. Protecting the riparian land is critical to make sure St. Albert grows in a way that protects the Sturgeon River.