The option to someday extend Molly Banister Drive will stay in the city’s plans, city council decided in 5-3 vote after a nearly nine-hour public hearing Tuesday.
After hearing polarized arguments from dozens of city residents in person, by phone, email and letter, the majority of councillors decided to keep options open about one day connecting Molly Banister Drive with 40th Avenue and 22nd Street.
Who knows what this east-west corridor will look like in future, said Coun. Tanya Handley, who voted for keeping the alignment, along with councillors Vesna Higham, Frank Wong, Lawrence Lee and Buck Buchanan.
(Mayor Tara Veer removed herself from decision-making to avoid a conflict of interest since she lives in an adjoining neighbourhood).
Experts had previously stated that a road extension will be needed in 30 years when the local population hits 188,000.
But Handley said she was inspired by resident Roy van der Sluis’ comments that the corridor should be kept as an east-west connector — even if it doesn’t become a conventional road.
Who knows what the future will bring, in terms of transportation options — this corridor might be needed for smaller, greener cars, “e-bikes, e-scooters, or an electric train,” the city resident remarked at Tuesday’s public hearing at the Harvest Centre at Westerner Park.
Coun. Michael Dawe, Dianne Wyntjes and Ken Johnston sided with city administration — and the applicant, Melcor Developments. They had argued that the road extension will not be needed in future since 19th Street will be inevitably expanded.
Dawe said keeping the road alignment in the plans, when the city’s own engineers stated they could solve future traffic dilemmas without this road extension over Piper Creek, will stymie development.
Melcor Developments had wanted to create more homes and a park in a new subdivision south of Sunnybrook instead of retaining an allowance for the road extension.
Dawe said this was not just a profit grab by a builder, but a case of a developer willing to help improve the city by setting aside 40 acres of parkland.
“We are supposed to be a council that prides itself on being business friendly … but this is like forced land banking,” said Dawe.
While Wyntjes and Johnston had spoken against maintaining the road alignment for ecological reasons, and because it would save only a few minutes of drivers’ time, other councillors were impacted by citizens’ arguments that their formerly quiet neighbourhoods were being used as shortcuts by impatient drivers trying to avoid congested 32nd Street.
Buchanan said he has driven 32nd Street a lot as a former police officer and knows this happens.
Ideally, there would never be a need to alter nature with man-made infrastructure, said Higham — but expecting Red Deer drivers to go 2,400 metres between 19th and 32nd streets when most other arterial roads are spaced only 800 metres apart is far from ideal.
Several councillors felt there would be better future options to create infrastructure with less environmental degradation.
Wong felt the road extension could someday provide another access to Red Deer University, while Lee noted that most citizens favour the future road extension, so council needs to be responsive to the majority opinion.
Several city councillors said they heard public arguments that made them change their mind about the road.
Resident Brian Stackhouse had said he’s already dealing with deafening backyard noise from 32nd Street — but favoured maintaining existing park trails instead of extending Molly Banister Drive to relieve some of the future vehicle traffic.
Resident Richard McDonell said he loves and frequently uses the nearby trails that channel wildlife onto his property — yet is concerned about traffic chaos that could result in future without the option of building the road extension.
Other residents who wanted the road alignment to be removed from plans cited concerns about environmental degradation of the Piper Creek and the disruption of a park trail and traffic corridor.
They told council that another road was not needed, as future traffic patterns would change, Red Deer is not growing quickly anymore, and that most future growth would be to the north, instead of east.
Those who supported maintaining the future road allowance cited current traffic congestion and accidents on 32nd Street and the inability to widen that road because of existing properties.
They spoke of more motor vehicle pollution as drivers go out of their way to use 19th or 32nd streets. They raised questions about emergency vehicle access and complained about motorists cutting through their neighbourhoods to avoid heavy traffic on 32nd Street.
Melcor Developments, which recently bought the farmland south of Sunnybrook from the Bower sisters, had pledged to add 40 acres to the city’s park system and add more homes to the new neighbourhood instead of retaining the road alignment.
Guy Pelletier, of Melcor, was unavailable to respond to council’s decision.