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High-density area of South Riel's Midtown development approved

Designs are not finalized, but in its application Averton stated it will construct seniors’ complexes up to 30 metres – or 10 stories – in Area C to accomplish a density of 186 units per hectare for that area.
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2105 midtown sup
The future land use intended for Midtown by Averton Homes. On Tuesday city council approved redistricting for Area C in a 6-1 vote.

Correction

An earlier version of this article misstated the height allowed in Area C. The height is up to 12 storeys.

The Gazette has previously reported the Midtown development would be 800 units. However, Averton has clarified they are entitled to roughly 900 units of residential plus supportive housing (they expect 200 to 300 units of seniors housing), plus neighbourhood-scale commercial.

A contentious South Riel development was green-lit by St. Albert city council on Tuesday, after St. Albert’s first-ever digital public hearing.

The 900-unit, mixed-use Midtown development by Averton Homes received approval for the final, highest density portion of the project, which will allow for an overall density of 80 units per hectare.

In April last year, council gave its nod of approval to two out of three areas of the development but removed a 10-hectare parcel dubbed Area C from the bylaw after significant pushback from residents. A year later, Averton brought forward an identical redistricting application for Area C.

Designs are not finalized, but in its application Averton stated it will construct seniors’ complexes up to 35 metres – or 12 storeys – in Area C to accomplish a density of 186 units per hectare for that area.

Averton broke ground on the first part of Midtown in September.

Last year, council also approved amendments to the South Riel area structure plan (ASP), and the redistricting would bring Midtown’s overall density in line with required densities laid out in the ASP.

On Tuesday, council approved the final redistricting in a 6-1 vote, with Coun. Sheena Hughes voting against.

Three residents spoke to council during the Zoom public hearing – all speaking against the proposed redistricting – and there were an additional nine written submissions included in council’s agenda package. City communications said peak attendance of the meeting was 44 people.

Most of the discussion revolved around the length of shadows cast by the proposed buildings in Area C.

Two sun shadow studies were included in council agenda package, one commissioned by Averton and another peer study by St. Albert. The city did its own study, since Averton’s only pondered shadows until 3 p.m. at four times of the year.

Averton said location of the buildings in the study was a “worst-case scenario,” and the intent is to locate the buildings in Area C farther west, about 95 metres from the adjacent Heritage Lakes neighbourhood.

Resident Rachel Vincent said the city’s peer study, done by O2 Planning + Design was a ploy to “bamboozle” the public and “push through an unpopular development,” noting O2’s study did not include any summer scenarios. It only provided hourly data points on March 21.

Flaws in the virtual public hearing process became apparent at this moment, when Vincent was interrupted by an interjection from Coun. Watkins, which he later apologized for.

Once approval is granted for redistricting, ultimate design is up to the developer. With that in mind, Mayor Cathy Heron asked for reassurance that space between the adjacent neighbourhood would be maintained.

“One of our game plans is to amenitize with density around open space, as much as possible, so our amenities are not along the rail,” Averton president Paul Lanni said, referring to the CN Rail line that runs between Midtown and Heritage Lakes. “But it's going to vary depending on the fabric of what ultimately gets developed.”

'The nature of living in community'

While debating a motion by Coun. Natalie Joly for second reading of an amendment to the land use bylaw, several councillors noted mixed-use developments like Midtown are a necessary part of a growing city.

Nobody owns the sky, Coun. Wes Brodhead said in his remarks, adding while there are concerns with Midtown the long-term benefits are good.

“My neighbors across my back fence have a direct view into my deck and they're 20 meters away,” he said. “It is a matter of the nature of living in community that sometimes we have to live in community.”

Coun. Sheena Hughes, who opposed the redistricting, said despite assurances from the developer the buildings will be set back further, there is no evidence to support that claim.

“I personally would not want to be in darkness three or four hours earlier in the summer. You know, it's not a minor issue. It's a major issue affecting quite a few houses,” she said. “Even if it wasn't the worst case, it is still going to affect many, many people and their homes and their lives”

Third and final reading passed with only Hughes opposed, and no further discussion.


Hannah Lawson

About the Author: Hannah Lawson

Hannah Lawson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2019 after working as editor of the Athabasca Advocate. She writes about city hall.
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