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Annexed area key to St. Albert's future

It's long been a goal in St.

It's long been a goal in St. Albert to increase the amount of commercial and industrial development, so that the property taxes brought in by such development would reduce the pressure on homeowners, who currently provide a disproportionate percentage of the city's tax revenue.

When the city annexed 1,336 hectares from Sturgeon County in 2007, it was viewed as an opportunity for city council to make inroads toward its desired split of 80-20 between residential and non-residential tax assessment.

For mayoral challenger Shelley Biermanski, the annexed lands are a limited resource that the city has to treat carefully.

"There's just that portion for us to do something with then it's done," she said. "I'd kind of like to see it more than just some more houses, something a little bit more unique to St. Albert."

Biermanski views the Avenir project as the exact type of development that St. Albert wants because of its clean technology focus. This mixed-use proposal for the northwest corner of St. Albert has made headlines in the last year but hasn't been formally pitched to council.

"That's kind of suitable to what St. Albert needs because it's something really, really different," Biermanski said.

Mayor Nolan Crouse said he's been careful to avoid endorsing Avenir publicly so far because the Avenir group is seeking to develop 100 per cent of its land as residential. The non-residential component of the Avenir vision actually hinges on the successful development of an adjacent property where another developer is hoping to build a sports village with a combination of commercial, industrial and athletic facilities.

The proponents of those projects expect to come before council with a joint submission in November.

"We'll have to see how that goes," Crouse said.

Council is under pressure, particularly from St. Albert's business sector, to get development happening in the annexed lands quickly. Crouse feels the city has done its best on a difficult task.

Much of city staff's time was consumed with developing the smart growth concept, which council eventually voted down. Also, much of the land in the annexed area is held by farmers or churches, he said.

"You don't just say, well as a landowner you must develop," Crouse said. "People look at it as, where are the backhoes, where are the bulldozers? Well, farmers are farming, the churches are churching."

Crouse's focus with the annexed land is to facilitate the development of commercial and industrial sites. He doesn't think the area south of the Avenir location could be the "next best" place for an industrial park.

"The next step now is to turn loose the developers or the landowners so that they can get on with developing," he said.

Biermanski feels that industrial development is a key in the annexed lands.

"My preferred approach would be to first designate a good piece of it for a certain type of industrial and then it kind of takes the onus off us to boost our population so quickly," she said.

Her preference is for clean or light industry.

"Not like smokestacks coming out of the ground. Nobody wants that kind of industrial," she said.

She thinks the area to the west of the Highway 2 corridor to the north could be a potential site.

"I guess it depends whatever else goes out there," she said.

She's not in favour of leapfrog development, which the city is considering along Highway 2.

Residential

Various versions of city council have drawn criticism for bowing to developer pressure and allowing residential growth where non-residential was the vision.

The city's existing guidelines, which call for 30 per cent multi-family in new developments, are fine for guiding residential growth in the annexed area, Crouse said.

But his focus is non-residential.

"We've got to stick to our guns and that requires quite a resolve by council when there's a proposal coming forward that's residential," he said.

Biermanski wants St. Albert to use a measured approach to residential development in the annexed lands, and not get caught up in competing with other municipalities in the region.

"I don't think we have to compete with them because St. Albert's different. We don't have endless miles of land to keep competing," she said. "We just do it right and hopefully we hold our own."