By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – About 35 residents attended Wednesday night’s joint open house on the Coeur de Morinville Area Structure Plan (ASP) and Highway 642 Functional Planning Study. The three-hour event covered both projects in significant detail. The former is a project that would set guidelines for development in Morinville’s historic downtown core; the latter addresses the specific challenges of dealing with a main street that is also a provincial highway.
Both the Coeur de Morinville ASP and Highway 642 Functional Planning Study are connected projects and play a significant role in the future development of Morinville’s downtown area allowing the development needed to generate more business taxes, reducing the tax burden on residential ratepayers.
Plan part of desire to ease development
The dual nature of 100 Avenue has long presented a challenge to those looking to develop property on Main Street. Because there has been no plan in place to identify the needs of development on 100 Avenue, the province, who has planning authority for the road, defaults to the same cookie-cutter template they would use for the highway outside of the community. As such, development up to the sidewalk is frowned on, the province preferring large parking lots off the road with buildings set well back from the highway.
“When the province responds to those development applications, it doesn’t have a specific point of reference,” said Greg Hofmann, Morinville’s Director of Planning and Development. “It doesn’t have a plan to refer to like a functional plan. What it has is a very general or generic frame of reference.” That frame of reference treats Morinville’s downtown as if it were an open stretch of highway across the prairie. “It’s a completely different highway and serves a different function once you leave East Boundary Road. It’s a rural road and everyone knows it,” Hofmann said of Highway 642. “It needs to be a different road inside the Town of Morinville.”
Under the current system, whenever someone wants to develop on 100 Avenue, they must deal with both the municipality and the province. The passing and approval of the functional plan in connection with the area structure plan could change that situation in that the requirement for provincial approval on each and every development could be removed.
“The Minister of Transportation can sign that [plan] off, and it may not sound like much, but it can mean a great deal to people who are interested in properties and re-developing existing properties,” Hofmann said. “That can make a heck of a difference.”
Roundabouts one possibility
Although participants had questions on the project ranging from how much had been spent on it to date and what could be done to lower speed limits throughout town, considerable concern was expressed over the idea of roundabouts throughout the downtown to control the flow of traffic.
Al-Terra Engineering, the engineers working with Morinville’s Planning and Development Department on the functional study, offered two renderings of what a future downtown intersection could look like. The first was a conventional series of intersections with stoplights at each; the other would consist of four roundabouts on 100 Avenue in the downtown area: one at 107 Street, 104 Street, 102 Street and 100 Street. Others would be dotted along 100 Avenue between the downtown and East Boundary Road.
Al-Terra consultant Corry Broks said the inclusion of the roundabouts as an option in no way indicates that is the route that would be taken. However, the consultant did set out some of the benefits of a roundabout system, including increased traffic and pedestrian safety, more green space, and assurance of parking on both sides of the road when traffic expands with the growth of the community. It is believed a conventional lighted intersection would ultimately eliminate parking on one side of the road because of the need for proper turning lanes.
Roundabouts are not the same as traffic circles in that they require less space, can be of single lane construction, and force drivers to slow down as they travel through them.
More public input to come
Both the ASP and functional planning study are anticipated to hit the draft stage by November. Another public open house is planned for that time.
Both documents are available through the Town of Morinville website at www.morinville.ca