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City's vision of urban village at risk


Boudreau Communities is proposing to remake the Oakmont neighbourhood with a high density mixed-use concept that is completely incompatible with the existing low density residential neighbourhood. Their proposal includes a 28-floor tower, a 25-floor tower and a 12-floor building, all of which would be primarily residential with ground floor commercial/retail uses. This is expected to add 750 to 1,000 residents to this small site, and that is in addition to the almost 400 residents who are expected in the Botanica once the second phase is occupied. Everyone who spoke at the recent public meeting (other than the presenters) was opposed to the development. Some of those people were angry and emotional given that they bought their properties based on the understanding that the neighbourhood was to remain a low density residential neighbourhood. Simply put, the existing residents have a completely different vision of the neighbourhood than the one put forward by the developer.

Both developers and the city often take the position that residents don’t do their homework by checking land use issues before they purchase, or by failing to attend public meetings to oppose land use amendments. That cannot be said here. The community has spoken loudly and clearly against the proposed development and neither the city’s municipal development plan (MDP) nor the Oakmont area structure plan (ASP) support the developer’s high density vision. Both the MDP and the ASP provide that 300 Orchard Court (the parcel closest to the existing residential neighbourhood) is to be used for low density residential purposes, while the other two parcels (closest to the Shops at Boudreau) are to be used for commercial purposes.

A municipality’s statutory plans, like the MDP and ASP, represent to property owners what can reasonably be expected in their communities for future development. Neither the statutory plans nor the land use bylaw should be amended to allow for this proposal. Leaving the existing plans in place will allow the neighbourhood to develop as intended, will allow for an adequate buffer zone between low density residential and commercial uses, and will avoid all of the problems associated with high density development within existing neighbourhoods, including the very significant traffic problems identified at the Sept. 10 public meeting.

The developer is proposing two accesses for the use of the 750-to-1,000 new residents and all of their related traffic. The first would be the intersection of Bellerose and Evergreen Drives, which also gives access to the Botanica and the Shops at Boudreau. The intersection is already congested at rush hour resulting in frustration for both existing residents of Erin Ridge South and Oakmont, and everyone else who uses Bellerose Drive. No matter how much tinkering is done, it simply cannot bear the high density proposed. As for the second access, a proposed right-hand turn driveway onto Bellerose Drive, residents in Erin Ridge North proposed an access onto Neil Ross Road to alleviate their very real safety concerns. The city’s response was that accesses onto arterial roads were contrary to city rules and would not be allowed. Bellerose Drive is the only arterial road giving access to Oakmont and it is completely foreseeable that the proposed access would back up traffic into already congested intersections and increase U-turns and traffic through the residential neighbourhoods when drivers inevitably turn around to get to where they really want to go. Those issues will be particularly frustrating and dangerous during the projected nine years of construction when heavy construction vehicles will be involved.

It is ironic that the developer is proposing a mixed-use development at the same time that Landrex is trying to extricate itself from a mixed-use zoning on St. Albert Trail. Why don’t they want to proceed? According to the quote in the Sept. 11 Gazette, “the developer was unable to construct due to market conditions”. It is also unlikely that the city is properly equipped to provide fire or other emergency services for a development of this type. Taxpayers should not be asked to pay for the specialized fire trucks, emergency equipment and increased personnel that would be required.

The developer’s notices described the project as an “urban village” but when asked at the public meeting whether they would be following the City of St. Albert’s “Urban Village Centres Planning and Design Guidelines” the developer’s answer was negative. So much for the city’s vision of what an urban village should be.

Bill Barclay, St. Albert

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