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St. Albert puts cash toward infill strategy

The strategy would set parameters for how much redevelopment is acceptable in older neighbourhoods.
St. Albert Place 2
The mature neighbourhood revitalization strategy will cost $208,100, money that will be taken from the city’s capital growth budget. FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

St. Albert will put cash toward strategic infill development in its older neighbourhoods, city council heard during budget deliberation in December. 

The city’s Municipal Development Plan (MDP) lists infill — the development of vacant lots in previously developed areas — as a way to promote housing diversity and to reuse existing infrastructure. However, specific guidelines on infill are currently limited, meaning infill development is administered through individual changes to the city’s land use bylaw.

The mature neighbourhood revitalization strategy would guide development in older neighbourhoods such as Inglewood, Sturgeon Heights, and Forest Lawn. To develop the strategy, city administration will gather feedback from the business community, developers, and St. Albert residents, to set clear guidelines on infill. 

The plan will cost $208,100, money that will be taken from the city’s capital growth budget. 

Kristina Peter, manager of St. Albert’s planning branch, said case-by-case infill amendments can be “controversial” in an administrative backgrounder on describing the plan. 

“Developing mature neighbourhood revitalization strategies … will help set parameters on where, what type, and how much redevelopment is acceptable,” Peters said in the backgrounder. 

While the infill strategy was initially funded in the city’s 2022 draft budget, Coun. Sheena Hughes put forward a motion as part of budget deliberation on Dec. 2, 2021, to try and defer the plan to 2024. 

“I’m really not sure if we’re trying to solve a problem here that no one’s asking to be solved,” Hughes said. “I’ve not really heard anyone in those neighbourhoods — and I am in one of them — that says let’s have an infill strategy."

Hughes said she was wary that stakeholders and community members supportive of change might be prioritized over individual residents who don’t want their neighbourhoods to be dramatically redeveloped.  

Additionally, Hughes argued that the city’s planning and development department already has much on their plate, and noted St. Albert has existing guidelines for residential infill, making this plan less “urgent.” 

St. Albert’s land use bylaw has guidelines that speak specifically to infill development for single-detached houses, duplexes, and semi-detached houses. When it comes to rezoning for the purpose of land-use intensification, however, policy direction is limited, according to a backgrounder in the city’s 2022 budget. 

Coun. Natalie Joly spoke in favour of the strategy, noting the choice is not between “infill and no infill” but rather whether the city strategically directs change in mature neighbourhoods. 

“The process right now is unclear,” Joly said. “It’s frustrating for residents, and it’s expensive for St. Albert to administer. This project would create certainty for residents wanting to redevelop, while prioritizing our values and goals … it puts the community in the driver’s seat as we change.”

Joly said some of the strategy could lead to requirements around the protection of mature trees. 

“Right now you could bulldoze every single mature tree on your lot,” Joly said. “Maybe we can prioritize protecting those healthy trees with a strategy.”

Coun. Wes Brodhead seconded Joly, arguing planning for infill is an “appropriate work” of the city’s. He noted in the past infill has sometimes not met the community’s expectations. 

“Watching infill happen in communities that don’t have guidelines for infill and densification … it becomes a nightmare,” Brodhead said. “The sooner we get to this, the better off we’ll be as a community.”

Mayor Cathy Heron argued postponing the project would end up costing more down the road. 

“I see no reason to delay this,” Heron said. “I think, actually, we should have had this completed last term, and maybe we should have pushed it a little bit more because it would have prevented some of the heartache that residents experience when they try to redevelop or when they move into an area and see something that’s coming that they don’t agree with."

Ultimately, the motion to postpone the development of the strategy failed 4-3, with Coun. Hughes, Shelley Biermanski, and Ken MacKay in favour. 

Rachel Narvey

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