Later this spring, Averton will seek to place the final piece in the legislative puzzle that is its Midtown development in South Riel. The new area structure plan (ASP) provides the potential for 12-storey apartment blocks to overlook, and overshadow, the long-established residences on Hawthorne Crescent.
On March 18, the St. Albert Gazette reported “sentiment amongst councillors was that after residents invest in a community, the ASP for that neighbourhood should not be tampered with. (Mayor) Heron said ... this is a 'constant belief' in her mind that has not changed.” Two weeks earlier, Mayor Heron was quoted as saying she is “a believer that once people start to invest and move into a neighbourhood, any changes to ASPs need to be carefully considered,” and “once an ASP has been started, we shouldn't be changing it.” Laudable sentiments indeed.
So how can the situation be so different with South Riel? Admittedly, it's not the same ASP, but close – only the CN tracks and a line of woody scrub separate South Riel from Heritage Lakes West.
When Heritage Lakes West ASP was created in 1993, South Riel, across the tracks, was little more than muddy fields. The new ASP paved the way for construction of the Heritage Lane complex and the 75 single family homes on Hawthorne Crescent.
The South Riel ASP was not enacted until 2007, by which time the residents of Hawthorne Crescent had had more than ten years to enjoy the light, clean air and privacy of their neighbourhood. Even then, they had no reason to fear encroachment on their quality of life, because the new South Riel ASP envisioned a wide strip of park parallel to the CN right-of-way, which would separate them from future medium density residential to the west and a proposed church site to the south.
Not until 2015, a full two decades after construction of the homes on Hawthorne Crescent, was there anything to alert residents that, in the coming years, they would be fighting for their right to light, to privacy and to the enjoyment of their properties. And even then, what was envisioned for the lands was nothing compared to what Averton has in mind for Midtown.
All of the land immediately across the tracks from Hawthorne Crescent is now classified as 'Mixed Use Area C'. The regulations for Area C allow the construction of apartment buildings up to a height of 35 metres, or 12 storeys, and a setback from the wall to the property line of a measly three metres.
Even city planners expressed some qualms when the matter came to council last year: “Administration is concerned about the impact that the 12 storey heights (35 m maximum) in Area C could have on the adjacent neighbourhoods and would prefer to see shorter building heights in Area C.”
And, while the ASP description for Area C as a whole provides some solace, stating: “The building massing and form of development in this area must be configured so as to mitigate impacts on the adjacent Heritage Lakes residential neighbourhood”, I would ask how can a 35 m, 10 to 12 storey apartment building just across the tracks not negatively impact the adjacent residents?
And then there's the shadow study provided by the developer. Even city planners were unsatisfied with the shadow study, especially given that, in mid-summer, the last time of day for which shadow data was provided was 3:00 p.m., when the sun is still virtually overhead! This is simply an insult to the intelligence of council and the citizens of St. Albert.
And while, to some members of council, this proposal might appear to be something exciting and new for St. Albert, to those residents of Hawthorne Crescent who live, play – and vote – in St. Albert, this seems little more than a betrayal!
Council, it's not too late to act to protect the interests of your current citizens.