A new development is giving city council a glimpse into how St. Albert neighbourhoods could look in the future.
Part of the city's North Ridge neighbourhood is the first area to be built to the city's required density minimum of 40 dwelling units per hectare. Strata Developments' "Nouveau" project is located on the northwest corner of the Hogan Road and Villeneuve Road intersection.
In 2017 the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board (EMRB), a collaborative growth planning board of elected representatives from 13 municipalities including St. Albert, passed minimum density requirements for all new residential developments in each member municipality.
The EMRB growth plan set the minimum required density for future development in St. Albert and Strathcona County at 40 dwelling units per hectare (du/ph). Only the City of Edmonton has a higher density requirement, at 45 du/ph.
In 2018, St. Albert's city council amended the land-use bylaw to account for the new density requirement, and allowed areas being developed at the time, such as Jensen Lakes and Erin Ridge North, to move forward with a density minimum of 30 du/ph, the city-wide requirement when development plans were adopted.
In comparison, many long-standing St. Albert neighbourhoods were built to levels below 20 du/ph, such as Deer Ridge, Braeside, Lacombe Park, Forest Lawn, and Akinsdale, according to the city's 2018 Residential Density Handbook. The handbook shows only Inglewood, Jensen Lakes, Downtown, Riverside, Ville Giroux, and Erin Ridge North have a density of 30 du/ph or more.
Courtney Jensen, a managing partner with Strata Developments, told The Gazette in an email the company has developed neighbourhoods similar to Nouveau in Edmonton.
"We are just hoping that bringing housing products to St. Albert that have proven popular in the Edmonton region helps provide options that lead to growth of the city, and greater affordability and housing diversity for new residents," Jensen said.
With many Nouveau homes now on the market and more to be listed soon, Strata Developments and three home-building companies are giving city council and chief administrative officer Bill Fletcher, a tour on Feb. 2 to give council an opportunity to see what a density of 40 du/ph can look like.
Mayor Cathy Heron, who has served on the EMRB's governance board since being elected as St. Albert's mayor in 2017, says higher density for new residential development is important to preserve the agricultural land surrounding the city and to keep servicing costs low as the city expands.
"The number one goal of the regional growth plan is to preserve prime agricultural land," Heron said in an interview.
"Other benefits are just lower cost," she said, adding that the EMRB has found the density requirements will save the region $2,000 per household annually to service single-family homes.
"We save money because we don't have to [build and maintain] the same number of roads, sidewalks, and water pipes," Heron said.
'Broaden our continuum of housing'
For Coun. Ken MacKay, building denser neighbourhoods as the city expands is important for keeping servicing costs manageable, but higher density will create needed supply for an uncommon housing size in St. Albert.
"Historically, St. Albert has always been the bigger estate lot homes and certainly that was the reputation, but, as we found out, we needed to broaden our continuum of housing that we did offer because, how are we going to keep our young people in our community?" MacKay said in an interview.
"Plus a lot of our seniors who are looking to stay in the community ... want to downsize," he said. "We're responding to the market."
MacKay also pointed out the land-use bylaw amendment in 2018 broadened the range of allowable secondary suites to include not just basement suites but garage and "garden" suites as well. MacKay said that change was another method of trying to promote density while increasing supply of different housing types.
In 2018, Coun. Sheena Hughes told The Gazette she felt the EMRB's housing density requirement had taken away the city's ability to control its land-use bylaw, and she voted in favour of adopting the density requirement with "great resistance."
In an interview on Jan. 27, Hughes said she's curious to see the Nouveau neighbourhood on Feb. 2, but a "couple of streets will not define what the global picture of that neighbourhood will look like, compared to any of the previous neighbourhoods in St. Albert, especially compared to the old neighbourhoods."
Hughes also said she thinks the density requirement will create issues for on-street parking and garbage collection.
"This is going to be our first opportunity to see what St. Albert's going to be looking at as a new standard," she said.