Approximately seven acres, directly west of the St. Augustine school, is being rezoned from commercial expansion to highway commercial and, at a public hearing, community members made it clear they’re not happy retail may be developed on the land.
Although no one who attended voiced an outright opposition to the project, many concerns were brought before council and Robert Traylen, who attended the meeting on behalf the company buying the property from the Ponoka Stampede and Exhibition Association.
The concern voiced most regularly was the safety risks that would come with developing retail units in an area with neighborhoods full of children on one side and St. Augustine School on the other.
According to Jim Hamilton, owner of Hamilton’s IGA, based on the square footage of the proposed retail units there could be 1,500 vehicles going through that retail area per day.
“We have a young family and where our house is, is kind of on a corner of what is looking like a proposed access point,” said Lacey Elliott, who lives on a street neighboring the area. “The safety factor of having children moving about the residential area with the increased traffic is a concern for us.”
Although it was identified on the concept map, council was opposed to the idea of access running through residential areas. “I can’t agree with you more that there’s no way we want to have to have people running through that residential development. That just does not make sense,” said Coun. Rick Bonnett.
“My feeling is on this development, or any development, I don’t think there should be any residential access, with the exception you may want pedestrian access,” said Coun. John Jacobs.
Rob Taylor, who lives in the area, is concerned a residential access, as well as the entire project, could increase his property taxes and decrease property values.
“If I got 1,000 vehicles going through my road every day who’s going to want to move there? I know it wouldn’t be me. Yes, I want Ponoka to grow but I mean you’ve got to look at some of these things here too.”
Curt Baron, principal of St. Augustine, is also concerned about the road running in front of the school being used as an access. “We have a lot of buses going through there every day, lots of kids.”
Five hundred and sixty students and 60 staff members attend St. Augustine. Fourteen Wolf Creek buses drop students off in the morning and in the afternoon six Wolf Creek and four Hobbema buses pick students up.
In an earlier concept plan there was direct access from Highway 53. However, Alberta Transportation denied direct access from the highway.
Betty Jurykoski, planning and development officer for Ponoka, shared a statement from Alberta Transportation: “with reference to the above (the rezoning project) we have no objection to rezoning the above property from commercial expansion to highway commercial. No access from the highway will be permitted once development of this space takes place.”
Jurykoski believes the remaining access on the southwest access that leads to Highway 53 will be eliminated. Alberta Transportation also said all access shall come from local roads, which are any surrounding roads.
Resident Don Letwinetz asked if residents could lobby the government for direct access from the highway.
According to Jurykoski the government has already been lobbied and access was denied.
“Some of the entrances will basically be based on the Alberta government Department of Highways. The Town of Ponoka has no say on the entrances to Highway 53,” said Mayor Larry Henkelman.
Henkelman said in a few weeks there is a meeting scheduled with Alberta Transportation and access is an issue that may be discussed.
Jurykoski said even without access from Highway 53 there is still a lot of potential access.
She said they may not all be appropriate but they’re still there. “We also have complete control of the traffic. So that’s the one important thing to remember.”
Jurykoski believes there is potential to lobby Alberta Transportation to widen the west side of 45th Avenue Crescent.
Bonnett also wants to lobby for traffic lights to be installed. Jacobs said council should wait until Alberta Transportation feels lights are needed, based on traffic counts, so they have to pay, rather than council.
Baron is concerned widening 45th Avenue Crescent will negatively affect the school. “That roadway there, at this point, is our student parking. Again our high school is growing quickly. I can see in the future there will be more and more students bringing their vehicles. I get that we widen the road and take away that parking. I don’t know where those students are going to park except in that student parking lot.”
There was also concern for emergency vehicle access points as well as fire safety concerns regarding distances between the retail units and residential areas.
“That’s a very valid concern. We are again in a two-phase situation. We are changing land use then we will address the development that is being placed upon the land and address access, safety measures, and there would obviously be input from the various departments. That is obviously something the town is deeply concerned about as well; is the safety of its residents and the proximity to the residents’ homes,” said Jurykoski.
Taylor was also concerned where visiting trailers would park during Stampede Week. He does not want them parked in residential areas and believes that could also hurt property values.
“Children keep coming up in this discussion, property values, families, not to mention there’s got to be other areas we could maybe look at. I’m not opposed to bringing new business to Ponoka but I look around and I see all kinds of vacant retail buildings … Maybe we need to rezone it something else, like a park,” said Elliot.
However, Jacobs explained the land is private property and has been zoned commercial since 1997. The only other option would be to develop it as an industrial.
“We keep bringing up what our property values are going to be worth but what are our property values going to be worth if we don’t get some growth and retail action here?” said Bonnett.
Bonnett said the project should be mitigated, not denied, and that it may not be the ideal location but if the school wanted the land or if someone wanted to build a park they would have purchased the land.
“I don’t hear a lot of no, no, no but at the same time I’m hearing it would be great if it was over there. Not in my backyard, right? We got NIMBY going, right?,” Bonnett asked.
Baron is also apprehensive about what would be going into the retail units once the land is developed.
“What goes there has to meet the zoning. Not any kind of business can go there,” said Jacobs.
According to Jurykoski, the Municipal Government Act will give the town the authority and discretion to approve development permits with or without conditions.
Even with the town’s discretion, Taylor is worried once the community gives its approval for the project would the lines of communication between the developers and the council, and the community close and would their concerns still be valid. “Am I going to get stabbed in the back two years from now?”
Under the Municipal Government Act residents affected by development permits are able to bring their concerns forward, said Jurykoski.
However, community members didn’t just have concerns about the project, suggestions were also given.
“As residents of the affected rezoning area we support the rezoning change, realizing the benefits it will bring to the community. At the same time, to maintain the pleasant, quiet character of our neighborhood other residents and I would like to make these suggestions,” said Letwinetz.
Letwinetz brought three suggestions to council:
– To maintain privacy of residents an upgraded, a solid fence be built between the residence areas and the proposed rezone area, continuing southwest beside 47th Avenue Crescent.
– For beautification purposes, a green space and/or trees be planted in the rezone area along the fence. In the summer the trees could also act as a noise buffer.
– That 47th Avenue Crescent be closed on the south end and become a no exit route except for emergency vehicles so only residence and residence guests will be using the road and those visiting the retail units will be kept separate.
Traylen said that having a high, upgraded, solid fence would also provide trespassers with more places to hide.
Letwinetz also brought 45 to 50 signatures with him but assured council it wasn’t a petition; it was just other residents of the area who agreed with the suggestions. “These are suggestions we would really like the council to take to heart.”
Jacobs was supportive of Letwinetz suggestions, especially the fence.
“If this gets zoned to commercial and we agree to a fence and we agree to trees and then the person may start building in one year from now or 25 years from now how do we ensure that fence goes in?,” said Jacobs. “How do we know that a future council and a future administration 20 years from now or five years from now will remember this conversation and this agreement? Because I will support this as long as a fence goes up there.”
Coun. Loanna Gulka also wanted assurance once the land begins to be developed the residents are kept updated.
“In this situation, where there is a lot of concern. I think it’s fair to the residents; you should be kept in the loop. I see no reason not to circulate the development permit with the conditions that become public information,” said Jurykoski.
Council was assured detailed minutes were being kept.
“If the development permit doesn’t go ahead having it stuck in a file that the citizens brought these concerns, in 10 years, if that’s when it happens, I won’t believe will be found. So if I could ask that if this development there is a caveat put on that states the town has to look at the minutes,” said Hamilton.
But, according to Jurykoski a municipality can only legally attach caveats in certain situations but a notification can be attached to the legal land file at town hall. She said if development was delayed or abandoned it would be the file she would go to first, for procedural reasons.
Since the rezone application was approved Jurykoski says the company’s next step is a development application, which hasn’t been produced. “The next step is when they want to proceed, how they want to proceed, and what they want to proceed.”