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Developers want status quo

Developers are expressing concerns over proposed changes to the way new neighbourhoods are created. On Monday, council unanimously supported Coun.

Developers are expressing concerns over proposed changes to the way new neighbourhoods are created.

On Monday, council unanimously supported Coun. Sheena Hughes’ motion to have area structure plans (ASPs) come to council earlier in the approval process so that the city can consider the purchase of additional land for parks, school sites and other amenities.

Currently, the area structure plan approval process is purely administrative. Council’s first opportunity to submit feedback on an ASP is during the bylaw amendment process, which Hughes says makes it impossible to enter into meaningful discussions on city needs.

“That’s not the time to say we’d like to purchase three to five acres and can you move your entire schematics around to discuss this,” said Hughes.

At that point, developers have spent “millions of dollars” on concept plans and studies, she said.

Hughes believes allowing council to take a look at the initial distribution of land will result in better planning of municipal infrastructure.

“Rather than putting a square peg into a round hole, we’re actually going to put it in at the beginning when we can actually make it fit,” she said on Monday.

While developers said they were happy to negotiate the purchase of land with the city, they do not think it’s reasonable to essentially give the city first right of refusal for every area structure plan or amendment.

“For a developer to enter into negotiations on potential city purchase of land without the funding committed puts us in a very risky place in terms of planning the rest of our neighbourhood,” said Courtney Jensen, chair of the Urban Development Institute (UDI) St. Albert committee and a managing partner with Strata Development Corp.

Jensen, who was speaking on behalf of St. Albert developers, said city planning staff are aware of the city’s needs and already work with developers to find mutually beneficial solutions to predetermined needs. She views this as best practice.

The proposed changes are also being viewed as another tool in the city’s arsenal to advocate for the need for larger school sites.

Currently, developers are only required to set aside 10 per cent of the land in an area structure plan for the creation of parks, recreation areas and schools, resulting in inadequate school sites. The city used to be able to request up to 15 per cent.

St. Albert, as well as other municipalities, have been lobbying the government for larger school sites to be included in the upcoming Municipal Government Act review.

In April, the St. Albert public school board told council it was asking for a new high school. There is currently no site in St. Albert (serviced or proposed) that could accommodate a large high school.

Coun. Wes Brodhead said the change in process raises awareness that the 10 per cent allocated to municipal reserve “simply doesn’t meet the needs of the community.”

“With this motion it brings this issue before council every ASP and that’s what I appreciate about it,” he said.

Adryan Slaght, director of planning and development for the city, said administration has not yet discussed the changes with developers. Recommendations on how to best incorporate council feedback earlier in the ASP approval process will come back to next council at the end of the winter 2018.