Ponoka’s Downtown Action Plan is moving forward in slow, steady steps.
There were some concerns from business owners over the proposed plan Aug. 8 during the public hearing of the plan’s bylaw. Because of those concerns, town planners requested council only go into second reading of the bylaw to address them.
Before the discussion was opened up to the public, Craig Teal, director of Parkland Community Planning Services explained some of the reasons behind the proposed plan.
“There’s still interest in the future of downtown Ponoka and its health,” said Teal of the main impetus.
Not only does the plan include infrastructure changes but it also shows what the future could look like using the space. It includes more buildings, existing buildings and potential for new buildings that bring events to the downtown area,’ said Teal.
It includes more “pedestrian connectivity” to get people into the downtown area.
“We’ve also added the river valley from the Municipal Development Plan definition of the downtown,” said Teal.
Downtown and how it looks
The intent of the plan is to create a downtown neighbourhood.
Planting, new paving patterns, wider sidewalks and pleasing visuals are meant to get people walking and staying in Ponoka’s downtown, explained Barry Gonnelly, a designer with L.A. West who is helping with the planning.
There’s even proposed design element requirements for a western theme for Ponoka’s downtown businesses.
It includes an agricultural tie-in, which was brought to the forefront. Landscape elements such as lights and benches and trash bins reinforce a western identity.
Designers also came up with the idea of using small grain elevators downtown as a visual to pay homage to that western theme.
Parking and streetscapes are an important part of this process, offered Teal.
The town owns about half of the large parking lots, plus there’s on street parking. Teal says there’s room in the parking for some expansion.
“It’s important to manage whatever supply you do have,” said Teal.
There is a parking management plan within the plan. It includes what parking is available and what is needed to get people moving more in the area without having to use a meter system.
The third part of the plan creates a marketing strategy for a long-term period. Residents are one of the target audiences. But so are travellers from Edmonton or Calgary.
“The market of two million people is out there,” said Teal.
To replace all of Ponoka’s downtown infrastructure at today’s construction rates would cost about $7.7 million.
The recommendation is to make the changes over the next 15-20 years.
Jim Tangjerd was concerned about the proposal to widen the sidewalks. He suggests this is a farm community that needs to make room for bigger vehicles.
Gonnelly replied that there are proposed corner bumps on certain streets to help reduce traffic speeds and to make it faster for pedestrians to cross the streets.
We found that when we start to pinch the travel aisles people tend to slow down a little,” said Gonnelly.
The mid-walk crossings, with bump outs, are designed to make it easier for pedestrians.
Danny Lineham is a members of the Downtown Heritage and Revitalization committee and he suggested the plan is an attempt to address the lack of pedestrian traffic. He feels this will keep people downtown.
“We have to get beyond the idea of a 1965 agricultural community,” said Lineham.
Debbi Raugust is a downtown business owner who has some concerns about ongoing maintenance. She suggests if regular operational maintenance cannot be taken care of currently then how will the town be able to function with this new plan?
“You want to bring people to Ponoka, I don’t think pretty is the answer,” said Raugust.
“You need to focus on tax incentives.”
One idea she proposed was having one year no taxes for first year businesses or tax credits for businesses that clear their frontage.
Tim Schmidt, director of planning and development for the Town of Ponoka, said tax incentives are one of the proposed action plans, adding that some of those concerns are operational and Schmidt agreed that needs to be part of the plan.
Schmidt said they received some new comments and because of that he requested council approve second reading of the bylaw to allow planners to review.
Council approved second reading of the bylaw with the final reading to come Sept. 12 to council.