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LETTER: Disappointing to see unwarranted growth prioritized ahead of conservation

"It does not need to be this way and I am frankly disappointed to be living in a community that fosters unwarranted growth at the expense of nature."

Re: "Council postpones passing key planning document," March 17 Gazette:

I attended the council meeting on March 15 where city administration presented to council the latest iteration of its new Municipal Development Plan dubbed "Flourish", with the byline "Growing to 100K". I am obviously biased in favour of natural area conservation and against urban sprawl but was struck by the contrast between requests to council from developers for the Urban Design Institute and BLESS.

Responses to presentations from the two entities from the various city councillors were interesting. BLESS argued that certain lands designated in the new MDP for industrial or commercial development (dubbed "Employment Lands" in the MDP) should, more appropriately, be conserved for the future which would be more in keeping with the designation of same lands in the overarching Edmonton Metropolitan Region Growth Plan as "Provincial Environmentally Sensitive Lands". UDI argued the minutiae of the plan's wording with the intent of turning restrictive or mandatory development requirements, included in the plan to serve the greater good of the city and its residents, into more permissive policies that allow developers to have the flexibility, in my opinion, to maximize profit. Needless to say, it was the UDI arguments upon which the majority of councillors at the public hearing concerned themselves and, in fact, it was what UDI wanted that led council to send the MDP back to administration to determine the potential impact of granting developers more leeway.

The entire premise of the plan is off base as far as I am concerned. Why does the City of St. Albert deem it advisable, even admirable, to "Grow to 100,000"? Urban sprawl across North America is adversely affecting the well-being of our species unnecessarily. Municipalities are sprawling across the landscape growing out instead of up, gobbling up farm land and natural areas across the continent, leaping across perimeter ring roads like the Anthony Henday with ever-increasing urban developments that fatten the coffers of capitalists and leave we the people wanting for natural areas sufficient to feed our souls.

It does not need to be this way and I am frankly disappointed to be living in a community that fosters unwarranted growth at the expense of nature. If there is anything that this pandemic has shown us, it is how vital our natural living systems are to our well-being. Never before have natural areas like Lois Hole Provincial Park or Riverlot 56, or for that matter natural areas across the province and nation, been subject to the pressures we have seen as people move outdoors and learn anew how to find joy in the ecosystems that sustain us. Where we once cursed at being unable to find a place to park downtown in St. Albert for Saturday's farmers' market, we now curse at being unable to find parking to go for a walk in our limited natural areas. It is precisely because of urban sprawl that our natural areas and farm lands are disappearing beneath asphalt covered streets upon which are built ever increasing rows of bland boxes.

I do hope councillors find the vision to do what is right when the MDP returns for final readings on April 19th. I also hope more people in our city stand up and instruct our representatives to do what is right.

Dave Burkhart, BLESS board member, St. Albert

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