St. Albert city council's resounding denial of the proposed Riverbank Landing development on Monday should not be taken as a sign that this city is against progress.
Over an 11-hour period on Monday, councillors listened to dozens of residents who were concerned about the project's location near the intersection of Bellerose Drive and Boudreau Road, and the impact two proposed 26-storey towers housing 500 units could have on traffic congestion. Ultimately, councillors voted unanimously against a change to the Oakmont area structure plan that would have allowed a denser mixed-use development to proceed.
The Riverbank Landing proposal has been contentious from the get-go – as high-density projects often are – for residents who moved to Oakmont with expectations of low density. But the fatal snag for this proposal, which is a very nice development otherwise, was simply its location.
This was a case of right project, wrong place. Anyone who has driven Bellerose Drive during morning or afternoon rush hour knows how long it can take to get through that intersection at Boudreau, whether you're turning left or going straight through. The spectre of an even longer wait at that intersection rightly had councillors backing away, and developer Boudreau Communities failed to convince council that these traffic concerns could be properly mitigated.
Ultimately, councillors agreed a project like Riverbank Landing shouldn't be shoehorned into a mature, low-density residential area on a road that already has significant traffic congestion. No doubt the 70-plus residents who voiced their concerns Monday helped that decision-making process along. But this shouldn't be taken as another example of NIMBYism – councillors had to weigh the tempting economic boost this would bring, including a nearly $2.7-million annual contribution to the city's tax coffers, against the inescapable fact that Bellerose Drive could not accommodate it. Their final decision wasn't a message that our city is unfriendly to developers, but rather that dense developments need appropriate locations.
At the same time, this council knows, and has been very outspoken to date, about the need for densification. If we’re going to be competitive in the capital region for attracting a younger demographic, we need higher density developments. Density targets set by the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board have made it clear that cities need to limit urban sprawl by building up instead of out. Council's commitment to this was evident in their recent decision on the Midtown development in South Riel, and densification has been an ongoing theme throughout discussions around the city's rewrite of its municipal development plan.
Make no mistake: St. Albert needs projects of this magnitude in its future, and residents should be prepared to see such proposals come forward with more regularity. Ideally, such projects would be built out along corridors that have robust enough infrastructure to accommodate them, such as Ray Gibbon Drive, which is in the process of being widened. We are living in an increasingly densified world, but responsible densification is key.
Editorials are the consensus view of the St. Albert Gazette's editorial board.