St. Albert city council has voted to approve a land transfer agreement with Homeland Housing for an affordable housing unit in the city’s downtown core.
On Sept. 19, council voted to have the city’s chief administrative officer (CAO) approve an agreement to transfer the land — a 1.3-acre parcel in St. Albert's downtown at 22 St. Thomas St. — for $1.
In early 2020, St. Albert issued an expression of interest to explore options for the downtown site, and selected Homeland Housing’s proposal. The mixed-income residential and commercial development will include a minimum of 55 per cent of units priced at 10 to 20 per cent below median market rates (which for a one bedroom is currently $1,195, and for a two bedroom, $1,355).
Later in December 2021, council directed the chief administrative officer to draw up a land transfer agreement with Homeland Housing.
Originally planned as office space for city employees, 22 St. Thomas St. went up for sale on the open market in 2019 for $3.82 million, but no developers expressed interest, according to an administrative backgrounder. The land is currently valued at $2.65 million.
Lory Scott, the city’s affordable housing liaison, said the proposed project is aligned to council’s strategic goals, and the land transfer agreement “uses an undeveloped resource already owned by the city to provide a long-term community and social benefit.”
During the council meeting, residents Judith Hierlihy and Ken Kachula addressed council to oppose the use of the land for affordable housing provided by Homeland.
“We believe Homeland Housing’s proposed mixed-use building … will not be the catalyst needed to strengthen downtown redevelopment,” Hierlihy said, adding that the need for extra commercial rental space in the downtown is “questionable.”
The two are members of the Neighbours of Lot 22 Committee, representatives of four downtown condo buildings on St. Joseph Street.
In April, the committee addressed council to pitch an office and arts space as another option for the land in lieu of the affordable housing project.
During the Sept. 19 city council meeting, Hierlihy asked council to name the parcel of land at 22 St. Thomas St. “Millennium Park East,” and reserve it for future land development of the committee's proposed dual civic office building and performing arts community.
While Hierlihy raised concerns surrounding potential tax requisitions the city would pay to Homeland Housing for the project, Raymond Cormie, the executive director for Homeland Housing, told council these requisitions do not apply to community affordable housing.
Homeland Housing only receives tax requisitions for its seniors' lodge program, Cormie said. The program provides living space, meals, housekeeping services, and recreational opportunities for independent seniors.
Coun. Sheena Hughes asked how much parking Homeland Housing is planning to provide as part of the facility.
Cormie said parking will be worked out as part of the development permit process.
The city and council will see the proposed development design when it is at 50-per-cent and 80-per-cent completion.
Coun. Natalie Joly said facilitating an affordable housing project downtown is central to council’s values.
"This is an exciting next step at a time when the federal and provincial governments have shown interest in funding this kind of collaborative project," Joly said.
Similarly, Coun. Wes Brodhead said during debate that affordable housing “has been a constant need in our community.”
“One of the stumbling blocks … has always been land,” Brodhead said. “I appreciate this coming forward, and I look forward to a vibrant development in the downtown core that will actually bring people to our downtown and that will just add vibrancy.”
Coun. Shelley Biermanski said in an interview she doesn’t feel the land transfer itself is the right course of action for St. Albert.
“It was just to me an enormous amount of money in value of land for a city of our size,” Biermanski said. “It was not justified to me.”
The motion to approve the land agreement passed 6-1 with Coun. Shelley Biermanski opposed.