The future of new recreation services in St. Albert can now be pinned on a map in the city’s northwest.
On Monday, city council narrowly voted 4-3 to acquire a 59-acre parcel of land offered by Rohit Land Developments for a future rec site, turning down an offer by Landrex Inc. for an Erin Ridge North site.
Council had thorough discussions about the pros and cons with each site, but in the end the opportunity to stimulate economic growth in the west was a deciding factor.
Mayor Cathy Heron said in an interview while sod won't be turned on a new rec facility tomorrow, choosing the land is a “really significant step.”
One of the biggest factors for her was traffic, and funnelling vehicles away from a thoroughly congested St. Albert Trail.
She was joined by councillors Natalie Joly, Sheena Hughes and Jacquie Hansen in voting to accept Rohit’s proposal. Councillors Ken MacKay, Wes Brodhead and Ray Watkins voted against.
While there was a third option on the table – using city-owned property in Badger Lands – it was not a consideration in debate.
Hughes, who made the motion, said a huge benefit to the 59 acres within the Range Road 260 Area Structure Plan is it would be a “three for one” in relation to servicing. She said St. Albert would eventually be investing capital in extending servicing west of Ray Gibbon Drive anyway, so doing it now would bring pipes to Badger Lands, Lakeview Business District and the rec land.
Range Road 260’s orientation in St. Albert’s map 30 years down the line was also a key consideration for Hughes, who pointed out the area will likely be central St. Albert in the future. St. Albert’s boundaries could be extended to Range Road 261, if current annexation negotiations with Sturgeon County go as planned.
Siting a new high school was another big player in debate, which is one option for amenities that could be included with the recreation facility.
Previously, St. Albert Public School had told council they would prefer the Erin Ridge North site to build a new high school.
Joly said with a school in mind, the Range Road 260 location would be best because the city could start planning with a fresh slate, rather dropping a new school into an established area.
“Going into a site like this where we can do good planning right from the get-go is great for everyone, so everyone knows what they’re getting into,” she said.
Heron agreed with Joly and added servicing across Ray Gibbon Drive is a priority to achieve a 70-30 tax ratio. She also said consultations with residents indicated public support is with the Range Road 260 location.
“The public in my mind sort of sits over there,” she said.
For Hansen, spurring economic development was a main consideration in choosing west St. Albert. She said “for a long time” the city has been trying to get development in the Lakeview Business District off the ground.
The opportunity to cash in on regional partnerships was also a key consideration for many members of council. Hansen noted she thinks there are partnerships available with all land options.
In a letter sent to council, Edmonton’s interim city manager Adam Laughlin said the city would prefer the Range Road 260 lands above the other options. He went on to say Edmonton “is unlikely” to contribute capital but could be interested in partnerships around rental agreements or shared programming.
Sturgeon County did not have enough information to pick a preferred site, chief administrative officer Reegan McCullough said in a letter attached to council’s agenda package.
Brodhead said while there “is no loser,” he preferred the Erin Ridge North site and said it would have the best opportunity for accessing financial support. In addition, he said locating a new rec facility in the north would spur development there as well.
MacKay said he does not support the Range Road 260 location because council has a responsibility to current residents. He said the Erin Ridge North site would have the potential of fast-tracking construction of Neil Ross Road, thereby addressing area residents’ traffic concerns.
Earlier in the meeting, administration said while developing Neil Ross Road could alleviate some pressures on east-west traffic, dropping a recreation facility in any area would serve to increase traffic.
MacKay also said he thinks there is a better opportunity for a high school in the north.
In September, Morinville-St. Albert MLA Dale Nally presented to council and said he would support Landrex’s Erin Ridge North site.
Watkins said during debate he was not sure which way to vote, and both were good options.
While it was not a major feature of debate, each parcel of land would come with different price tags for capital associated with servicing the parcels.
Both privately owned options were being offered to the city for free, and St. Albert would have to pay for hooking up servicing. While Landrex was offering to price-match any other options, servicing estimates placed Range Road 260 as the most cost-effective.
Servicing Range Road 260 would be an estimated net $7.79 million cost to St. Albert, after recoveries from off site levies. The Erin Ridge North was estimated to cost the most at $12.6 million, and Badger Lands was $9.68 million.
A tax impact put together by administration shows on a six-year average, servicing Range Road 260 could result in an average 0.93 per cent tax increase every year. In 2021, it would be a two-per-cent increase.
As part of Hughes’ motion, administration will bring financing options back to council.