St. Albert has withdrawn its notice of intent to annex around 46 hectares of land from Edmonton after hearing opposition from landowners.
During its May 2 meeting, St. Albert city council voted unanimously to retract the notice of intent to annex. Following the construction of Anthony Henday Drive, the parcels of Edmonton land became cut off from the rest of the city, leading St. Albert to begin plans for annexation around 2016. Bringing the parcels within St. Albert could have increased the availability of industrial land within the city. In 2021, the City submitted an official proposal for annexation.
At that time, St. Albert City administration said the parcels left over from the construction of the Henday are too expensive for the City of Edmonton to service. Landlocked by the transportation utility corridor (TUC) running parallel to the Henday, the parcels would require utilities to run underneath the freeway should they remain a part of Edmonton. However, as part of St. Albert, the lands could have been included within the city’s boundary and aligned to the north edge of the Henday, leading to better access and servicing, the City said in 2021.
However, landowners consulted in the annexation process strongly opposed the prospect of becoming a part of St. Albert.
Allan Fertig, who owns around 12.5 hectares of the formerly proposed annexation land, said during a virtual landowner meeting in January 2022 that the annexation would cause undue development delays and financial burden in the form of off-site levy costs — fees the city collects from developers to service intensification through a cost-sharing program.
If annexed, the land would have been included within St. Albert’s South Riel Area Structure Plan (ASP). Fertig argued following new rules outlined by St. Albert would have left too much uncertainty for the future of his land.
“I am still looking for one reason why this annexation would be good for myself, and even some of my neighbours,” Fertig said.
Fertig asked why the city’s existing storm and water infrastructure within South Riel wasn’t sized to accommodate the future annexation lands, with aspects of South Riel, such as elevation, not setting up “potential ease of development for properties like mine.”
Kristina Peter, the City’s planning branch manager, noted that St. Albert planned the South Riel ASP several years before considering annexation in 2016.
“The design of the ASP never anticipated that these lands actually would be annexed,” Peter said.
According to a report from council’s May 2 meeting, an EPCOR water main runs through the annexation area, and can service most of the privately-owned land.
Mayor Cathy Heron said in an interview that she feels the landowners were being “shortsighted,” noting the land still requires other servicing, such as transportation. Heron said the intersection at Ray Gibbon Drive and 137th Street is destined to be shut down, meaning there will be no access to the lands.
“We could have provided them access to South Riel and we could have given them sewer and storm, which would drastically increase the value of their land,” Heron said.
According to an administrative backgrounder from the May 2 meeting, City administration received a legal opinion about whether it would be likely the City could obtain an annexation order from the province in the face of landowners’ strong disapproval. Obtaining approval of the order is one of the final steps in approving the annexation.
The legal opinion supported the option to discontinue the annexation, the backgrounder said.
Council’s May 2 decision to withdraw the annexation application passed on consent, meaning it was not discussed at council.
Heron told The Gazette that the Edmonton annexation lands would have brought valuable industrial land within St. Albert, providing more room to grow the city’s non-residential tax base.
“It would have been very quick and simple to get these lots serviced,” Heron said, arguing that the annexation would have “been a real benefit” to both landowners and the City of St. Albert.