The capital region could save $5 billion and preserve an area bigger than St. Albert, Sherwood Park, Spruce Grove and Bruderheim combined under a growth plan set to go to a vote next month.
The Capital Region Board received the final draft of its new growth plan Sept. 8. Dubbed the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Growth Plan, it sets out the ground rules for how Edmonton-area communities are to develop in the next 30 years.
Urban sprawl is expensive, said St. Albert Coun. Cathy Heron, who served on the growth plan’s task force. St. Albert will need a new fire hall within five years if it keeps sprawling at current rates, and that will cost everyone.
This new growth plan is designed to preserve natural areas and reduce the need for new infrastructure, she said.
“We’re saving on pipes, we’re saving on roads, we’re saving on ongoing operating (costs).”
The plan predicts that the Edmonton region’s population will double to 2.2 million by 2044, said board consultant Sharon Shuya. By using compact development and other principles, local governments could save $5 billion on infrastructure despite this growth and not use some 250 quarter-sections of land – an area big enough to contain St. Albert, Sherwood Park, Spruce Grove and Bruderheim.
“It is a plan to ensure our children and grandchildren have bright futures in this region,” she said.
What it does
The 122-page document sets out the rules for development in the Edmonton region. Local governments will implement these rules through municipal development and area structure plans.
The way we’re developing right now uses too much farmland and creates too much pollution, said board chair and St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse. By encouraging denser development, this plan will preserve more of that agricultural land.
“That means there’s less miles travelled by car and more land saved for a (local) food supply.”
The plan sets out transportation and utility corridors, identifies natural areas for preservation and sets out employment zones such as Alberta’s Industrial Heartland in which industry and business are to be concentrated.
In addition to commitments to promote job growth, address climate change, plan affordable homes and encourage transit use, the plan calls on governments to identify and conserve an adequate supply of prime agricultural land to provide local food for future generations.
“Once land is developed in any sort of form, it cannot go back to being productive farmland,” said Morinville Mayor Lisa Holmes, who served on the growth plan’s task force.
The plan requires developers to perform agricultural impact studies when they propose projects that affect prime agricultural lands.
The plan also sets mandatory and voluntary density targets to reduce urban sprawl. It requires new new neighbourhoods in St. Albert to contain at least 40 dwelling units per hectare, for example, and encourages St. Albert to put at least 17.5 per cent of the new homes it builds each year into existing neighbourhoods.
What it means
Heron said Erin Ridge North is a good example of what future St. Albert neighbourhoods could look like under the plan, as it’s being built at 41 units per hectare.
“Those residents can easily walk to a school, they can easily walk to a corner store, they can walk to a Starbucks,” she said, unlike in other city neighbourhoods where you have to drive everywhere. It also has a mix of single and multi-family homes.
One of the plan’s core concepts is to construct such complete communities where people can live, work and play, she explains.
“It’s about living in a community that has everything you need on a day-to-day basis.”
Heron said it would be five to 10 years before St. Albert residents noticed major effects from this regional plan. In the near term, the plan should encourage more infill development.
“St. Albert residents should pay attention and be aware even though it won’t affect them today or tomorrow, (as) it will affect their kids.”
The plan goes to a vote next month. Visit capitalregionboard.ab.ca to read the draft plan.