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Council passes first reading of St. Albert West ASP

Area Structure Plan covers just over 1,000 hectares of land
This map shows how the city plans to designate what kind of development can take place where. CITY OF ST. ALBERT/Screenshot

City council passed first reading on a new bylaw for the St. Albert West Area Structure Plan (ASP), a major planning document over two years in the making that will define development immediately west of Ray Gibbon Drive.

ASPs are legally required documents that determine how certain areas will be developed. The West ASP has an eastern border of Ray Gibbon Drive, a southern border of 137 Avenue, a western border of Big Lake and Carrot Creek, and a northern border that extends about half a kilometre north of Villeneuve Road.

In all, the West ASP covers 1,035 hectares of land, including the land designated to be the long-talked about Lakeview Business Districta potential recreational centre; and the city's Badger Lands, which were once planned to be home to the city's solar farm.

READ MORE: City publishes draft of St. Albert West ASP

Before development in the area can begin, council needs to complete three readings of the associated bylaw, hold a public hearing, and have the ASP signed off on by the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board (EMRB) — the provincially mandated development oversight body for the Edmonton region.

On June 4, after little debate, council passed first reading of the West ASP bylaw, which will now be sent to the EMRB for approval. If the EMRB approves, council will hold a public hearing before debating the bylaw more substantially at second and third reading, which likely won't occur until September or October.

The ASP, a draft of which was published in late April, states the ASP's land-use concept of mixed-use development, commercial and industrial space, and some residential development (the Cherot neighbourhood) will “enable strategic and sustainable economic growth that enhances St. Albert's competitiveness and attractiveness to investors and employers within and beyond the Edmonton metropolitan region.”

Development in the area will create an estimated 5,000 jobs, the ASP document estimates, and will push the city toward its desired goal of having a 70/30 residential and non-residential property tax split, rather than the 80/20 tax split that the city has had, or has been close to having, over the past few years.

Out of the 1,035 hectares of land covered under the ASP, only about 600 hectares are considered developable, as the city is required to protect almost 300 hectares that fall under the Environmental Reserve designation (flood lines around Carrot Creek). As well, the protected area surrounding Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park, and the Ray Gibbon Drive right of way takes up an additional 132 hectares.

The ASP designates nearly half of the remaining 600 hectares of developable land for employment purposes, which includes Lakeview Business District. Approximately 83 hectares of the area will be residential, 31 hectares will be kept for community parks and school sites, and 22 hectares is designated for the planned for rec centre.

RELATED: Estimate for new rec centre between $80-$110 million: City

The ASP contains three designated school sites, one of which will be adjoining or at least adjacent to the future recreation facility, another will be located in the middle of the Cherot neighbourhood, and the last is designated for the city-owned Badger Lands.

Coun. Ken MacKay told the Gazette that first reading of the West ASP was merely a formality to start the approval process.

“The whole purpose of getting it passed first reading is so that we can actually start the process of having a public hearing and also submitting it to the EMRB, which is extremely important,” MacKay said. “If we delay it any further, it just causes more problems down the way in relation to at least getting it on the table.”

When it comes to the ASP itself, MacKay said it's “critical for moving forward with the growth of our city.”

“Particularly with our business park,” he said, referring to the Lakeview Business District. 

“This is something that is important to the future development of our community, and it's kind of a starting point.”

Coun. Wes Brodhead also said he thinks the ASP is a critical document for St. Albert's future.

“I don't have a whole lot of concerns,” Brodhead said about the plan. “It now starts to set up expectations around what is going to be built in various areas.”

“The biggest thing that this does for us is it gives us an opportunity to now move on getting Lakeview Business District going, and quite honestly, if we get that done in the next year and a bit, it'll be a major success for our community.”

On the other hand, Coun. Sheena Hughes told the Gazette she has serious concerns about council's process for advancing the ASP. She thinks receiving EMRB approval prior to a public hearing and council's debate limits what changes council can make, as significant adjustments might require further EMRB approval, which could delay the project by several months.

“Obviously, the goal is to try to get this [ASP] approved to move the project forward, as it would be for any development, quite frankly,” Hughes said. “But the public hearing process should occur prior to going through the EMRB for approval because ... it will cause discouragement from actually going through this document and saying, 'What changes do I want to make in light of the fact that if I make a change or if a change is approved, it will result in two to three months in additional delays and potential rejection from the EMRB?'”

“That's my challenge right now — our processes are not actually facilitating public debate or council involvement in major area structure plans.”

In response to a question from Hughes during the June 4 meeting, Marta Caufield, the city's director of legal, legislative, and records services, said there are some municipalities that hold public hearings on ASPs prior to referral to the EMRB, and that she thinks the EMRB would actually prefer municipalities to hold public hearings prior to ASPs being sent to the board for approval.

“I think the EMRB would prefer if we had our public hearing first so that they knew what our residents thought about a certain ASP before it was referred to them,” Caufield said. “I've given the advice that I believe the EMRB referral should happen before the public hearing so that our residents have all of the information at a public hearing, including with the EMRB said.”

“I don't believe there's any actual movement within administration to change our processes right now in terms of the timing of the EMRB referral.”

Hughes said she doesn't want to try and change the city's process in the middle of going through it, but thinks it is a “weak link” for the city.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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