Four blocks of Sylvan Lake’s Lakeshore Drive are expected to be blocked off this summer as the town goes ahead with a $24-million plan to transform the stretch into a pedestrian-friendly tourist draw.
The town’s Centennial Park will be expanded and improved and traffic diverted a street to the south to provide a large recreational area with lake access where visitors are not dodging traffic to get to the beach.
“The whole point of this development is first and foremost to spur investment in this commercial area and this residential area,” said Mayor Susan Samson at an open house at the town hall to show off the latest plans. “We know we get one million-plus visitors (annually). We know we need to beef this whole area up.”
Samson has no doubts the town is on the right track with the five-year project to eliminate parking on the north side of Lakeshore Drive to create pedestrian promenades, improve washrooms and recreational amenities and create new parking lots.
“I think this vision is the best I’ve seen, and I’ve been in Sylvan Lake for 30 years.”
The town’s ambitious plans have spawned some concerns however.
A group of 17 property owners whose property is near the route on 40th Street and 50A Avenue traffic will be diverted to when Lakeshore Drive is closed have already hired a lawyer to seek compensation for lost property values.
Uncertainty over future plans for the park have left some unable to sell their homes, said homeowner Kevin St. Amand, who is part of the legal action and lives along the new traffic route.
Others with front driveways are worried it will be difficult to back out on to a now-busier road. St. Amand has traffic concerns too and was encouraged to see the town was proposing raised crosswalks to keep speeds down.
While the project has generated controversy he believes the project will be good for the town overall. “I think it will make the town look beautiful, hopefully put the town a little bit more on the map for Alberta as a destination location.”
Among those invited to the open house were area business and residents affected by the road changes.
A group of business owners pressed town staff for assurances that at least one lane of Lakeshore Drive in front of their shops would be left open during the critical summer months. While the section of road to the west is not slated for permanent closure, there will be significant construction due to water main upgrading and the building of a pedestrian boulevard on the north side of Lakeshore Drive.
Barb Jehn, owner of DeModa’s Fashions in the Merchant Marina Mall, said businesses were told that the town wants to keep a lane open.
Jehn wants to make sure people know lakeshore merchants will be open for business despite the ongoing work. “I don’t want any people to be scared to come down here.”