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City designates industrial land at western edge

Monday's decision to designate 700 acres of land in the past west part of the city for future industrial uses might not be the most significant chapter in the city's pursuit of economic development, but it was a big first step.

Monday's decision to designate 700 acres of land in the past west part of the city for future industrial uses might not be the most significant chapter in the city's pursuit of economic development, but it was a big first step.

Council voted 5-2 in favour of adopting what had been dubbed Option 2B as the location for future industrial developers. Councillors Roger Lemieux and Wes Brodhead voted against the motion.

The move brings to an end a full year of study, review, analysis and consultation and now opens up the potential for acrimonious public hearings as the city prepares to amend the municipal development plan to designate the land as industrial, even though landowners were promised it would be used for residential purposes.

"Some have thought of tonight as D-Day. Tonight is not D-Day," Mayor Nolan Crouse warned council before it began hearing from speakers Monday. "The public hearing and MDP amendments are D-Day."

Administration informed city council it could have first reading of the MDP amendment ready by September. At that time, the city is required to hold public hearings before voting on all three readings.

Coun. Malcolm Parker, who has consistently argued in favour of setting aside a large bank of land for industrial development, was thrilled with the decision.

"I think the city has to have a growing business community. It has to attract not only the commercial development, but light industry. We've been talking about that as long as I've been involved. It's a slow process but we made good headway."

Council was originally scheduled to vote on the location of the industrial lands in December, but was delayed until April to allow council more time to consult with industry players and landowners.


In a presentation, Guy Boston, general manager of planning and engineering, said those consultations, which included industrial developers, the Urban Development Institute (UDI) and the St. Albert economic development advisory committee (SAEDAC), found two common perceptions of St. Albert by people in the industrial industry — that its supply of land is too small and that it does not convey a unified message regarding industrial development.

"It just does not seem to be a consistent message that we were open to whatever kind of development," Boston said.

That perception is consistent with the first of two studies conducted last year. The first examined how much land the city needs and noted a need for a pro-development culture change at St. Albert Place.

The second report detailed where the city could potentially put its 700 acres of industrial land, with option 2B being administration's preferred location.

But not everyone in attendance supported the option. Jim Pennell, senior development manager for Genstar, a residential development company, took council through a presentation that criticized every component of the land, from topography to cost of servicing to what the city told the Municipal Government Board (MGB) the land would become when it was annexed from Sturgeon County in 2007.

A chart submitted to the MGB that Pennell presented to council showed plans for mostly residential development and zero industrial, consistent with the promises made to landowners in the area. Pennell also said the land is so uneven in terms of topography that it, along with servicing, would make any lots prohibitively expensive.

"In our opinion this is not economically feasible for anyone," Pennell said.

Coun. Wes Brodhead gave an impassioned speech to council, questioning why the city was gambling on such a large bank of land.

"My biggest problem is I don't know what we're going to give to the people of St. Albert," Brodhead said. "What are we saying is going to happen?"

Lemieux joined Brodhead in his dissent, describing the issue as "emotional" for all involved.

"This is not what St. Albert is all about. Why do we have to be like other towns? Why can't we be St. Albert?" Lemieux asked later.

Next steps

But the movement towards industrial expansion could lose at least one supporter by the time it reaches the MDP level of discussion unless it entertains more mixed uses.

Crouse supported the designation but added he wants to see more than just light industrial uses for the area.

"There are lots of opportunities, like a business park, a hotel or something. I don't know what this would look like. We have to give this the opportunity to shake it out a little further," Crouse said.

Brodhead also successfully passed a motion calling for a review of all engineering standards associated with light industrial development by April 2013. He wants residents to have a chance to weigh in on whether or not it would be willing to allow reduced standards on items like roads, curbs, gutters and sidewalks in exchange for industrial development.

"We developed a city we like and we want it to stay that way. We need to grow but we need to be intentioned as to how we're growing," Brodhead said.

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