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Millennium Park plan 'disconcerting,' Seniors Association says

Concerns include destruction of venue space and garden, security issues

The St. Albert Seniors Association is concerned the city's plan for Millennium Park downtown will lead to the destruction of its venue space and garden, while also creating security issues.

The Seniors Association is a non-profit organization providing various services to more than 1,600 residents over the age of 50. The association operates out of Red Willow Place, a city-owned facility south of the Sturgeon River on Taché Street. 

In an interview, the association's executive director Linda Ensley and treasurer Mike Howes said their biggest concern about the city's Millennium Park project — for which council passed first reading of a $20.8 million borrowing bylaw for on Jan. 23 — is that the future redeveloped park space will destroy the association's gardening program, while also impeding on their existing outdoor venue space.

The garden and venue space is a semi-fenced-in area directly behind Red Willow Place, adjacent to the building's back deck. Renderings of the Millennium Park design that council decided to move forward with show the backyard area of Red Willow Place will be removed and replaced with a communal path connecting Lions Park to the main Millennium Park space.

“That garden has been there since this place has been here,” Ensley said. “We've got 30 volunteers and ... in that backyard we grow potatoes, we grow tomatoes, eggplants, we grow all of our herbs; we grow everything for the kitchen that we can possibly grow back there.”

“That also helps us keep the cost down in our kitchen and then we've got fresh food for our seniors.”

The association also has a pollinator garden, for which the city provided a $7,500 grant last November so the organization could install raised garden beds, which are easier for seniors to use.

Howes added that besides producing food and attracting bees and butterflies, the association also routinely rents the backyard and deck area for summer events such as weddings or company barbecues. In 2023 the association generated some $7,000 in revenue from rentals, Howes said, which was a major boost for the organization, as it otherwise relies on government grants to operate.

Having a communal path so close to the facility instead of the nearly closed-off backyard will likely create some security problems, Howes said. He said since the association started using the back deck about seven years ago, they've had a barbecue go missing, as well as a propane tank and a couple of deck chairs.

“It's just a concern of when we get the outdoor patio [open for the summer], we're talking about putting a lot of nice furniture on that patio and barbecues and these little table heaters and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “We're planning to have it screened in, but it's still a very big concern.”

“Even as it is right now, it's a pretty easy mark,” Howes said, adding the association is planning to fully fence-in the yard to try and prevent further losses.

Another concern Ensley and Howes have about the Millennium Park design, although unrelated directly to the organization's operations, is that the existing communal path connecting Red Willow Place to the Children's Bridge is slated to be taken out.

“It's really disconcerting to me that they're more concerned about their design than they are about how people actually function in this space,” Ensley said. She said she was told by city staff in November the path would be removed so the park's green space as designed wasn't split in two.

“Everybody's just going to take shortcuts across there,” Howes said. “They're going to screw it right up.”

The city's supervisor of parks planning and stewardship, Manda Wilde, said in an email the city is aware of the Seniors Association's concerns, and plans to have further conversations with the organization.

“The approved plan for Millennium Park is conceptual in nature,” Wilde said. “Further discussions with the St. Albert Seniors Association related to their lease of Red Willow Place will happen before any final decisions are made.”

In an effort to share their concerns with council the Seniors Association is hosting a roundtable event on March 6, and all members of council and Mayor Cathy Heron have been invited to attend. Ensley said that as of Feb. 26, just Coun. Wes Brodhead and Coun. Mike Killick have committed to being there.

The roundtable will be open to the public and is being hosted at Red Willow Place. It starts at 6 p.m..

Also planning to attend the roundtable event on March 6 is Ciara Fraser, a St. Albert resident who recently started a petition against the $20.8 million borrowing bylaw council needs to fund the development of Millennium Park because of concerns over project cost, the loss of trees that development will require, and because there was no public consultation on the design approved by council.

Although the borrowing bylaw is for $20.8 million, the actual estimated cost of the park is $16.6 million, and the additional $4.2 million covered under the bylaw will only be used if the project goes over budget; however, council would need to approve any additional spending.

Under the provincial Municipal Government Act, for a petition against a borrowing bylaw to be successful, the petition must receive signatures from at least 10 per cent of the municipality's population. All signatories must be eligible voters and signatures must be done in-person.

For Fraser, the 10 per cent rule means she needs to get at least 6,608 signatures before the end of March, but she told the Gazette in February she hopes to get 8,000 signatures for good measure. If the petition receives enough signatures, council will be forced to either abandon the project as it's currently planned, or send the project and borrowing bylaw to a public vote.

In an interview on Feb. 27, Fraser said she about 14 people have volunteered to help collect signatures, and she estimated the petition has garnered a few hundred signatures so far. Fraser also said she will be collecting signatures at the roundtable.

“I haven't heard of a single person that is in favour of the way things are going,” she said. “It seems fairly unanimous.”

Council is scheduled to complete second and third reading of the borrowing bylaw in early April.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

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