A committee of St. Albert city council is recommending that land near Big Lake remain open for industrial development despite the concerns of conservationists.
The area, directly south of Meadowview Drive and west of Ray Gibbon Drive, is part of the proposed Lakeview Business District. The St. Albert Municipal Development Plan (MDP) adopted in 2020 identifies Lakeview as the city’s next industrial park. A total of 617 acres are designated for greenfield development.
But on May 31, 2021, then-councillor Jacquie Hansen put forward a motion to change the land’s designation to major open spaces to protect a greater amount of land near Big Lake. Council voted to gather more information about the implications of the proposed motion.
While employment areas outline land for industrial and office-based use, major open spaces outline land to be enhanced and protected for its natural features as the city grows.
City staff presented the results of stakeholder and landowner engagement regarding the motion to council’s community growth and infrastructure standing committee June 13, after which the committee voted to abandon the motion.
Lyndsay Francis, senior planner with St. Albert, told the committee that the land south of Meadowview is developable and not within a flood line.
“The major open spaces policies within [the MDP] discuss some pretty specific terminology like natural features and flood-prone areas which don’t apply to this subject area,” Francis said.
Within the current MDP, the shores of Big Lake are protected by around 500 metres of setback area, Adryan Slaght, the city's director of planning and development, told the committee.
Landowners the city consulted in the area also outlined the land south of Meadowview Drive as the most cost-effective area to place future stormwater management facilities, Francis said. The major open spaces designation is incompatible with this land use.
Further, if the designation of the lands is changed, the city may need to purchase the lands, Francis said.
Estimates currently value the land at $21 million to $27 million, not including park development and loss in future non-residential tax assessment.
While some internal city departments, such as the parks and recreation department, utilities, and planning departments, voiced concerns about the change to major open spaces, Francis said the city’s environment branch supported the change to major open spaces because the land is near Big Lake and includes an important bird area.
According to the Big Lake Environmental Support Society (BLESS), the area provides valuable nesting habitat for swans and pelicans, and is home to a host of other wildlife.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) also supported the proposed amendment, Francis said, outlining that maintaining and protecting natural areas has been found to benefit the physical and mental well-being of those who use the areas.
Slaght said the land under Meadowview Drive contains small spruce tree stands that were surveyed previously as holding wildlife habitat value.
In response to a question from Coun. Mike Killick about whether a developer would be able to cut down the trees, Kristina Peter, city planning branch manager, said the city has a policy that environmentally sensitive areas need to be protected.
The city recently kicked off work on more detailed planning that includes the area under Meadowview Drive, a document that will be called the St. Albert West Area Structure Plan (ASP).
“Part of the ASP would be setting out some regulation for those areas to be protected as well,” Peter said.
Should council approve its committee’s recommendation, Druett said he still sees a way forward to protect the land with the St. Albert West ASP planning process.
“That’s where we’ll be giving our input, and that might be an opportunity to come up with something that works,” Druett said.
Coun. Natalie Joly said Monday evening that she voted to rescind the change to major open spaces because the information administration provided was comprehensive.
“The particular designation [of major open spaces] is not meant for the type of use that was being proposed,” Joly said, noting the committee heard the city is going to need stormwater management facilities in that area. “That’s a really straightforward one.”
Council’s committee voted unanimously to recommend rescinding the change.
BLESS member Tony Druett is “very disappointed” in the committee’s recommendation, but “not surprised.”
“City planning personnel have been quite co-operative, but they’ve been quite clearly trying to come up with arguments why not to make this change,” he said.
BLESS would like to see Meadowview Drive become a boundary road to the area the city has carved out for industrial development, rather than run directly through it, Druett said.
Council is set to vote on the committee’s recommendation at its June 20 council meeting.