A $25-million upgrade to Red Deer’s Riverside Meadows area was approved Tuesday, after much debate about neighbourhood equity and what are “must-have” items.
Most of the Riverside Meadows revitalization money was pegged for concrete repairs, sanitation system upgrades and storm infrastructure replacement.
But Red Deer city Coun. Vesna Higham suggested benches, public art, bike racks, decorative lighting and a new trail for the residential area in north Red Deer — amounting to about $2 million — can be safely cut from the city’s 2020 capital budget without jeopardizing any real mechanical infrastructure for the older neighbourhood.
Higham had initially suggested the cost of buried power lines in Riverside Meadows could also be delayed until better economic times — but reversed her opinion after learning this would be paid from utility revenues, so a postponement would not create cost-savings for taxpayers.
“When I see lovely upgraded lighting, I think this is not a must-have item,” said Higham. “So if we can save (money), maybe we can find some dollars down the road …”
While Coun. Tanya Handley agreed with Higham, the rest of council did not.
Councillors Dianne Wyntjes, Lawrence Lee and Michael Dawe saw this as a matter of neighbourhood equity, as well as a chance to bring amenities in Riverside Meadows in line with those in newer neighbourhoods.
While Higham noted her newer Kentwood neighbourhood, and others like it, don’t have bike racks and new benches, Dawe said Riverside Meadows is unique, as it was its own community absorbed into the city about 70 years ago.
Some heavy industrial uses existed in the area, and Riverside Meadows residents had to pay levies in the past to bring some of the infrastructure up to grade, added Dawe, who feared it would be “leaving the neighbourhood behind” to make these postponements.
Coun. Ken Johnston noted the area’s community association worked hard to reduce crime and make quality of life improvements. Making these aesthetic upgrades “speaks against the broken windows and indicates a pride in the neighbourhood and sustainability that attracts and not deters people,” he said.
Coun. Frank Wong didn’t like taking a “piecemeal” approach to this project — which council was warned about.
City manager Allan Seabrooke noted administration had already struck things that could be done at a later time off the projects list, so the “nice-to-haves” were eliminated before the budget came to council.
The Riverside Meadows upgrades were eventually approved in their entirety.