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Council votes down $20.8M borrowing bylaw for Millennium Park

Killick, MacKay join opposition to increasingly controversial plan

St. Albert city council voted against a $20.8 million borrowing bylaw for Millennium Park on April 16, bringing the increasingly controversial project to a halt.

Tuesday's vote saw two members of council — Coun. Mike Killick and Coun. Ken MacKay — change their positions from previous votes and join Coun. Shelley Biermanski and Coun. Sheena Hughes as those opposed.

Killick and MacKay's change of heart left just Mayor Cathy Heron, Coun. Wes Brodhead, and Coun. Natalie Joly in favour.

“What I said to the residents of St. Albert when I was elected was our green spaces, trees, parks, trails and the Sturgeon River valley makes St. Albert special, [and] I'm committed to protect and expand these for everyone's enjoyment,” Killick said.

“That just does not seem to fit with the current borrowing bylaw to advance Millennium Park as it's been outlined.”

MacKay said he felt council had “totally changed the game in the fourth quarter for our residents,” referring to how council last year voted to ditch the original park design, which had been in place since 2018.

“The initial concept design was all about balance,” MacKay said. “It achieved balance because it had extensive public engagement that covered all phases that dealt with pop-up engagement events, public design workshops, open houses, and we arrived at achieving a little bit of balance between the greenscapes ... and users and uses.”

“I realize that I'm probably going to disappoint a few people around this bench, but I just think that we need to look at how we can find ... that balance.”

Millennium Park is the name given to the mainly forested area separating St. Albert Place and Lions Park on the south side of the Sturgeon River downtown. The approved park design heading into the April 16 council meeting dictated more than half of the trees in the area would be cut down in order to increase the amount of open green space, and a small pavilion building featuring washrooms and commercial space would also have been built.

Also included in the design was a playground and picnic area, as well as a splash pad doubling as a social skating space in the winter.

The project's actual approved budget was $16.6 million, and the additional $4.2 million covered under the $20.8 million borrowing bylaw was contingency funding to be used if the project went over budget and received further council approval. Council heard on Tuesday the debenture would have led to a one per cent tax increase in 2026 and 2027.

Heron, trying to convince her colleagues to move the project forward, said there was still an opportunity to make changes to the park's design in the detailed design phase, which would have been the project's next step if the borrowing bylaw had passed.

“We heard it overwhelmingly in the last election when we were knocking on doors that downtown needs to be more vibrant and a place for people to go and hang out,” she said. 

“I thought this was going to be fantastic, not only for the community as a gift, but a place for our downtown businesses to use and to attract [business].”

Likewise, Brodhead reminded his fellow councillors downtown revitalization has been a goal for council for decades, and Millennium Park had been deemed an important part of achieving that goal.

“The development of Millennium Park is a significant demonstration of the city's continued commitment to downtown,” he said. “The park will play a critical place-making role by establishing a high quality, multi-use programmed and spontaneous public space linking Lions Park, St. Albert Place, and the Red Willow park and trail system.”

“When communities invent and enhance projects such as the St. Albert Promenade and Millennium Park, business investment in the downtown area often follows.”

At one point during the meeting council asked city administration to draft a motion that, if approved, would see the city complete extensive public engagement before construction started — something most of the nearly dozen residents who spoke against the bylaw on Tuesday asked council to do. However, after the borrowing bylaw was defeated, council was told the motion could still be debated at a future council meeting, and the motion was not tabled.

A few of the 10 residents who spoke against the bylaw on April 16 represented nearby organizations, such as the St. Albert Curling Club and the local Seniors Association, while other speakers included representatives from the Big Lake Environmental Support Society (BLESS), and Ciara Fraser, the resident who organized the ultimately unsuccessful petition against the borrowing bylaw.

“Over the 60 days I was given to collect signatures I had the chance to speak with thousands of St. Albert taxpayers, residents, and visitors,” Fraser told council. “Overwhelmingly, they strongly opposed the current plan to redevelop Millennium Park.”

“I respect that you want to make an impact, that you want to build more exciting projects than a road or sewer line, but a park that's gained mass community opposition is not your crown jewel.”

Joanne Ladouceur, a Métis resident who spoke against the bylaw, told council that she was “disturbed” by the Millennium Park plan.

“I am disappointed by the city's decision to disturb and destroy the proposed forested area to make way for a park,” Ladouceur said. “This area has a place in the Métis historical story as it was once scrip land.”

“The project, in fact, results in the disturbance and destruction of our relations," Ladouceur said. "You destroy the land — a vulnerable, innocent, silent, and defenceless piece of land — and you are destroying a story, you are destroying a historical landmark, you are destroying an ecosystem laden with life at every level and most significantly our natural living relatives.”

According to a new report to council written by parks manager Craig Cameron, city administration completed a “biophysical assessment” of the park area last year, which confirmed there are two wetland areas in the park's boundary, which would require special permitting from the provincial government under the Water Act to remove, and potentially compensation payment if the wetlands are removed.

“In general, tree stands in wet areas are less healthy,” Cameron wrote. “The highest-value and most significant trees are found in the [northeast corner] of the park, which includes green alder [trees], a species not commonly found in St. Albert.”

The assessment completed last year also confirmed that no protected wildlife species call the wooded area home, although a further survey for “rare wildlife and vascular plant species” would need to be completed prior to any construction.

Construction of Millennium Park was expected to start next spring.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

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