St. Albert is considering a new approval process for proposed land uses that would no longer require minor changes to be presented to council.
Under the city’s current process, major and minor land use changes are approved at the Area Structure Plan (ASP) level. These changes are then presented to the board for approval and forwarded to the Edmonton Metropolitan Area Board (EMRB).
At a council committee meeting on February 14, planner Sajid Sifat presented a new process that would introduce another layer to the planning process in St. Albert: a neighborhood plan. Sifat said the neighborhood plan would reduce approval times, long-term costs for developers and time for city staff.
Ultimately, Sifat said the new process could reduce wait times for minor change approvals from an average of six months to a year, to an expected three months.
Kristina Peter, manager of the city’s planning and development services, said the two-tier process will allow ASPs to be “more comprehensive and better aligned” with the city’s municipal development plan (MDP) and the EMRB Region Growth Plan, which outlines how the region will develop over the next 30 years.
The neighborhood plan must conform to the ASP, but will outline technical engineering and planning details, Peter said in an email. Examples she provided include stormwater design, land use statistics, and details informing future subdivisions.
In addition to no longer submitting minor changes to the board, Sifat said the new process would allow the city to make changes that are not of regional significance without contacting the EMRB.
Sifat described the new process with an example of recent amendments to Riverside’s ASP during the committee meeting.
Under the new system, the option of adding a school site to a ward such as Riverside would still have to come to council (and be addressed at the ASP level), as it is a land district change . In addition, public notification and participation requirements will remain in place.
However, smaller changes such as a recent adjustment to the size of a Riverside stormwater pond would now leave council’s purview and fall strictly under the city’s director of planning and development.
Questioned by the con. Mike Killick if neighborhoods will still receive change notices, Sifat said changes to the neighborhood plan would be “largely reserved for staff.”
In the email, Peter said public participation in the neighborhood plan process will include “steps such as providing materials on the city’s website for interested parties to access and review.” .
“If the proposed changes are not consistent with the board-approved ASP, the required application to change the ASP would trigger the public participation process,” Peter said.
For ASP changes, the city’s public participation process includes public participation sessions led by the change applicant (minimum one open house and one public meeting), as well as legal obligations to inform nearby landowners and hold a public hearing at council.
According to Sifat, the proposed process is very similar to those in neighboring municipalities, such as Fort Saskatchewan and Parkland County.
The proposed two-tier process would allow ASPs to capture even larger areas of the city, allowing “wider network decision-making,” Sifat said. This would include the location of school sites, major road networks, major service networks and higher level land uses such as residential, commercial, industrial sites and parks.
Sifat said that it will be possible for the administration to work simultaneously on the ASP and the neighborhood plan.
The administration is currently piloting the new process for the city’s North East and St. Albert West ASPs.
“Lessons learned will be incorporated to help improve the process in the future,” Peter said in the email. “If these proposed ASPs are approved by the board, they will be the first ASPs created under this new administrative process.”
At the committee meeting, Killick said he would like to see the city continue with the new process.
“It brings us closer to our neighboring communities,” Killick said.
Com. Natalie Joly also spoke out in favor of the development by the administration of a regulation to be presented to the council.
“Any opportunity to get the board out of the weeds is something I’m interested in,” Joly said. “Especially when it streamlines processes for our development partners.”
A by-law to implement the two-tier ASP process will be submitted for Board approval within the next two months.