The latest debate on whether to keep a road allowance for a potential future Molly Banister Drive extension in City of Red Deer plans ended the same way as in 2020.
The road allowance stays.
After a four-to-four vote that ultimately failed on Monday, Mayor Ken Johnston said city council was as split on the issue as the wider community.
The mayor and councillors Cindy Jefferies, Vesna Higham, Michael Dawe voted to remove the road from future consideration for a variety of reasons.
Most notably, they agreed with administration that Red Deerians value green space. They were also heartened when a city engineer said another solution to future road congestion could be found.
But other councillors were uncomfortable removing another viable east-west route from the city’s future plans, especially since no one knows what the future will bring.
Once the road allowance is gone it’s gone forever, noted Coun. Bruce Buruma, who voted for the status quo along with councillors Lawrence Lee, Dianne Wyntjes and Victor Doerksen. (Coun. Kraymer Barnstable did not vote to avoid a potential conflict of interest). “Nobody has a crystal ball,” added Lee.
The results of the vote did not go in Melcor Developments’ favour, and the company’s Red Deer-area vice-president, Guy Pelletier, was disappointed, saying “I think council missed an opportunity to be very clear about what we value as a community.”
Melcor had returned to council for the third time on this issue. “For me it’s about making the best neighbourhood that we can,” explained Pelletier.
Melcor promised the former owners of the land south of Sunnybrook, the Bower sisters, to design a well-planned neighbourhood on this “legacy” property, he added. But planning around an intersecting road allowance — for a road that may never happen — does not allow for that, he added.
Homes would back onto a long reserve that could potentially become a two- to four-lane future motorway in 50 years. (Adminstration walked back the 20 to 30 year timeframe for when the road extension would be needed to 50 years, citing slower growth shown in the last census.)
“It would result in an inefficient, broken up community,” Pelletier told council.
While Melcor will return to working on an effective neighbourhood design, he admitted this issue will likely be brought before council again.
Coun. Doerksen had tried to extend the time period between when applicants can bring the same issues back before council to 12 months from the current six months. But Council shelved the matter to the third quarter of the year.
About 40 people gathered at Red Deer City Hall on Monday for the third hearing since 2019 and the fifth, at least, since 1996, on whether a road allowance should be preserved to potentially extend Molly Banister Drive over Piper Creek to connect it with 40th Avenue by about 2070.
This time, as in 2020, city administration was recommending the road allowance be removed from plans. City Manager Tara Lodewyk told council there is really no right or wrong answer to a question that’s been debated in Red Deer since the 1970s, but it comes down to values.
Since Red Deerians love their parks and trails it makes no sense to intersect a green space with a road when there are other alternatives, Lodewyk added.
Russ Watts, development and transportation engineer for the city, told councillors that 19th Street could be widened in future to accommodate more traffic and it was always possible to explore other options. He could give no assurance that these future options would be better than the Molly Banister expansion option, but said, “all I can tell you is if council makes a decision (to remove the road allowance) we will find other options and alternatives.”
About a dozen Red Deerians spoke on both sides of the issue.
Those who favoured keeping the road allowance argued traffic on 40th Avenue and 32nd Street was already getting bad. They expressed concerns about the safety of pedestrian routes to the Bower Place Mall, and the efficiency of getting emergency vehicles through.
Retired city manager Craig Curtis said while recent population growth has slowed, the city could easily grow much faster with ultra-rapid rail options in the future.
Red Deerians on the other side of the issue spoke of the potential destruction of parks and trails, reduction of biodiversity and wildlife corridors.
Rod Trentham reminded city council having Red Deer’s large and continuous Waskasoo Park system is rare and valuable, and should not be “chipped away.”