by Jennifer Lavallee
Morinville News Correspondent
The mood was tense in Morinville’s Council Chambers during a public hearing Sept. 13.
The hearing was on proposed new zoning for an empty lot on 100 Avenue and 107 Street, where a church once stood.
The St. Andrews Anglican Church, who is still the landowner, has an offer on the property and is looking to sell. However, there is a catch—the buyers want the land zoned to allow for future commercial development that could be considered discretionary; for example, a gas station, restaurant, or liquor store. Ultimately, it would mean more pressure from traffic in an already busy intersection.
In their presentation to Council, the Town’s Administration indicated they do support redevelopment of the property, but added they were looking for, “guidance from Council on what would be appropriate for the site.”
When the floor opened up for comment from the public, residents had a lot to say. Most, if not all, talked (sometimes shouted) about safety there, or lack thereof.
Matt Meunier, who’s family’s business, the Shell gas station, also located at 100 Avenue and 107 Street, said, “we all know there’s safety concerns at this intersection.” He also described later in a statement handed out to the press, what he calls, numerous unsafe crossings and risky traffic maneuvers in that area.
Allowing the land to be rezoned, which could mean a future discretionary business (and thus increase traffic), will only add to the problem, he argued.
The Morinville Chamber of Commerce took issue with the proposed zoning change as well; Simon Boersma, the Chamber’s President, said adding more traffic in and out of that intersection would only cause a bottleneck in a busy part of town that is already dangerous for pedestrians.
Boersma also feared the increased traffic would trigger the need for a proposed roundabout, which could cost the Town’s taxpayers (residents and businesses) big bucks, which would include not only money for the infrastructure but the cost to expropriate land around it as well.
Residents gave emphasis on how dangerous it is for kids at the intersection, saying many students wait for their school buses there.
Apartment dwellers in the area were also unhappy. Increased traffic from the old church lot would affect access to their building. They feared this could have a devastating result if there were ever an emergency situation, like a fire, at their building.
Resident after resident spoke to their concerns about safety and emotions flared. One woman yelled at the Town’s Mayor, Lisa Holmes, from the gallery. Holmes threatened to close the conversation, saying “this is not the time and place for this.”
Trying to keep the conversation focused specifically on the land and the zoning bylaw, Holmes struggled. Residents made it clear, they couldn’t talk about one without the other. The zoning of the land, and the impact the zoning will have on traffic, came hand-in-hand.
Directly after the public hearing closed, councillors discussed the bylaw that would amend the zoning of the parcel in question.
Council and the Administration talked Traffic Impact Assessments and about a Functional Planning Study in length. Coun. Nicole Boutestein noted one of the plans showed that access to the Shell gas station on 107 Street could potentially be closed, depending on what the Provincial Government decides and, possibly, on what happens with the vacant lot across the street.
After more than an hour of analysis and debate, Deputy Mayor Brennan FitzGerald made a motion to table to matter. The room felt deflated.
But in the next moment, FitzGerald made another motion, proposing the Town write a letter to Brian Mason, Alberta’s Minister of Infrastructure and Minister of Transportation, asking for the immediate installation of traffic lights at the intersection of 100 Avenue and 107 Street.
And just like that, the room picked up again.
Councillor Stephen Dafoe made an amendment to FitzGerald’s motion, asking that lights also be considered for 100 Avenue and Grandin Drive.
The motion passed unanimously and the Town’s CAO, Andy Isbister, indicated if the letter were sent to Mason within the next day, Councillors would have the opportunity to speak to the topic directly with him, when they see Mason at the AUMA Convention for a one-on-one meeting in early October.
Ultimately, Morinville’s council did pass the bylaw allowing the Church to rezone their property. But, that does not mean a business will pop up there anytime soon. Especially one that is considered discretionary.
Before voting in favour of third reading for the bylaw amendment, councillors opted to change the decision-making authority on that piece of land. Dafoe successfully passed a motion changing it to a Direct Control area. Meaning, if a future property owner comes to the Town wanting to build a business that is considered discretionary use, Council will make the final decision, not the Administration.
Closing the meeting, Holmes summed up some frustrations. She vented, reminding folks that the Town cannot make decisions on 100 Avenue since it is a Provincially owned highway. “It’s not us,” she stressed, “it’s [the government], and it’s driving me nuts.”
When Morinville hits a population of 10,000 people, it can choose to apply to the Province, requesting to change its status to a city. Becoming a city would give the Town responsibility for 100 Avenue. With that responsibility would come decision-making powers but also, the requirement to pay for the maintenance of the road and other associated costs.