Kingswood residents are set to finally have some green space in their neighbourhood.
Stretching back over a decade, St. Albert has been in a battle with a local developer to acquire land that's owed to the city for mandatory park or school space.
Mayor Cathy Heron called the acquisition of a 2.3-hectare parcel “bittersweet,” because that land mass is significantly less than the 7.25 hectares St. Albert began the process of expropriating last April.
After city council’s approval of the acquisition on Monday, St. Albert will no longer pursue expropriation that would cost “well into seven figures,” an administrative background said. There will be no cost to the city in acquiring this land.
Kingswood development began in the '80s, but Canterra vice-president and general manager Ryan Brown told the Gazette in April the company did not co-operate with the city in handing over municipal reserve land in 2007 because of an announcement to locate a high school in Kingswood, which would draw increased traffic to the area.
However, Brown said on Friday Canterra believes the current council has the neighbourhood's best interests in mind, and as a result Canterra has co-operated on an agreement for a park.Heron said she “will not be held hostage by a landowner,” and the city still refuses to guarantee the high school will never be located at the parcel on the east side of Kingswood Boulevard.
“High schools have to go somewhere, right? And they go where they're most appropriate. And I'm not saying that that is a good spot or not, but I just won't ever guarantee that,” Heron said.
However, city council agreed during their vote on Monday to designate the piece of land as “park,” which according to St. Albert’s land use bylaw, does not allow for school development.
St. Albert will be drawing up to $3.94 million from its capital reserve to fund development of the park, and administration said $2 million of that would be dedicated to grading and seeding the site.
Heron said in neighbourhoods that are built in stages, developers would typically leave a municipal reserve (MR) site graded and seeded as they come to the designated site.
“And so now ... the residents of St. Albert are on the hook for that cost,” she said.
An attempt by Coun. Natalie Joly to reduce the dollar figure for developing the park to $2 million failed in a 4-3 vote, with councillors Sheena Hughes, Joly and Heron voting in favour.
She said the city is not “in a rush to spend that money today,” and with a tight capital budget that extra $1.94 million could be available for other projects, such as a pool.
“Just because it’s going to take time to get assessment of the land done, the grass in there, and those are the first steps,” she said. “We can make decisions about that second $2 million when we’re looking at the big picture; right now, we’re not looking at the big picture, we’re not looking at our priorities, and I think it’s important to do that together.”
Coun. Wes Brodhead argued against shrinking the park’s budget, saying residents have been waiting a “significant amount of time” for a park in the neighbourhood.
“I suspect the residents of Kingswood have long since given up hope for a park,” he said. “Now there’s some hope on the horizon and I’m not sure I want to diminish the product at the end of the day.”