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UPDATED: Brakes put on Oakmont development

St. Albert council unanimously voted down bylaw changes for the Riverbank Landing proposal on Monday.
St. Albert Place 5
FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette


This story has been updated with more information from Monday's public hearing.

Too tall, too much traffic and not enough planning.

After hearing from more than 70 residents in an 11-hour public hearing on Monday, St. Albert councillors voted unanimously against an amendment to the Oakmont area structure plan (ASP).

This then nullified two other amendments to the land use bylaw and building heights schedule needed in order for Boudreau Developments' controversial Riverbank Landing development to proceed. 

"I can say now I believe that kind of development belongs in a downtown area," said Mayor Cathy Heron in her closing comments. "This proposal is high-rises right beside low-density residential, and that is what we were trying to avoid. Mixed-use is appropriate, but these heights are not." 

Boudreau's vision was to build a walkable urban village with two 26-storey residential towers at its centre. The development planned to house approximately 800 people, with office spaces, restaurants, retail and healthcare services. 

The site is bounded by Boudreau’s two Botanica residential buildings, currently at 80 per cent capacity, and the Shops at Boudreau. The four-hectare parcel was the former site of Hole’s Greenhouses on Bellerose Drive, just northeast of Boudreau Road.

Boudreau had said the construction phase would create 174 labour and 95 service jobs per year, and the site had the potential for 55 healthcare and professional service providers. The project aimed to add $249 million to the local GDP and $2,680,954 in new property taxes annually. Boudreau planned to invest $500 million into the project.

Administration recommended council pass changes to the Oakmont area structure plan to redesignate the lands from commercial and low-density residential to mixed-use, and amend the land use bylaw to redistrict the entire property from direct control to direct control mixed-use.

However, they advised against adding a maximum building heights schedule for a direct control mixed-use district from 25 metres to 100 metres. 

"It's the actual heights of the buildings themselves that we're concerned about," said Suzanne Bennett, city planner, in her opening presentation.

Allowing zoning changes to accommodate a high-density development right next to single-family homes in the Oakmont neighbourhood and the Sturgeon River brought up major issues, including how the area would handle increased traffic, shadowing, emergency services and environmental impacts.

Dean Schick, city transportation manager, noted the intersection of Boudreau Road and Bellerose Drive is already reaching capacity levels and starting to see higher collision rates. The city has proposed improvements to the intersection, but those plans do not account for additional traffic from Boudreau's development, he said. 

"It is fair to say improvements that we’re looking at are relative to existing demand and not relevant to any existing development," Schick said.

The city received a total of 63 written submissions in favour and 267 letters in opposition, including those submitted after deadline. Just five out of the 72 speakers vocalized their support for the project.

"The negatives outweigh the positives generally on a public hearing, so I always listen to it with that in mind. But the fact that there were so few that took the time to register to speak in favour today spoke volumes to me," Heron said.

Coun. Ken MacKay was vocal in his decision to not support changes so drastically different from the original intent of the area structure plan. 

"I've got all sorts of environmental concerns ... I don't support changing the area structure plan. Not at all," he said. 

Even if the developer was to reduce the building heights, Coun. Sheena Hughes said traffic congestion at the intersection of Boudreau Road and Bellerose Drive would remain a major unsolved problem, on top of the building heights and shadowing concerns.  

"I won't be supporting this," she said. "We need to see a clear picture of what we're doing."

Recognizing "change is hard," Coun. Wes Brodhead said he felt "torn" about the decision given the city's expectation for future population growth. However, he decided not to support the amendment changes.

Coun. Jacquie Hansen said after listening to so many presentations, she knew "in her gut" mixed-use development wasn't right for the location. 

The development could have been an opportunity to lower taxes, Coun. Ray Watkins said, noting his disappointment about the developer and residents not being able to find common ground. 

"Those same people who don't want their taxes to increase – you're going to have to accept your taxes the way they are in some cases because this would be an opportunity if this was built out," Watkins said. "But I'm fine with that if the people don't want this project here."

Joly said she's excited for vibrant changes to happen in St. Albert, but Riverbank Landing is not the right location for Boudreau's proposal.

"If it was right next to a transit hub, I would be so excited about this kind of proposal," Joly said.  

Heron said the decision was the hardest one she has had to make in her 10 years on council. However, there were too many concerns left unsolved by the developer, and she voiced her opposition to the bylaw amendment.  

"The comments I heard today were legitimate concerns, and I happened to agree with many of them," she said. 

"Let's work with the community to find the right development that fits."

In the end, council unanimously voted against recommendations from administration, putting a halt to Boudreau's high-density development in its current form.


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