Citing the community divide over whether to remove the Molly Banister Drive extension from future plans, city council decided to extend the 35-year debate even further.
Most city councillors gave initial approval on Monday to administration’s proposal to permanently remove the road alignment from the East Hill Major Area Structure Plan — not because they thought this is definitely the way to go.
Councillors Michael Dawe, Ken Johnston, Diane Wyntjes, Vesna Higham and Lawrence Lee said they gave the proposal first reading because they wanted to give all Red Deerians a chance to air their opinions at a public hearing on Oct. 26.
Mayor Tara Veer excused herself from the discussion over a potential conflict of interest since she lives in an adjacent neighbourhood.
But councillors Frank Wong, Tanya Handley and Buck Buchanan opposed the proposal to remove a future road connection that could link Molly Banister Drive with 40th Avenue and 22nd Street in a decade or more as the city grows.
City administration had recommended the road alignment’s removal, citing the need to preserve an environmentally sensitive area as well as wildlife movements and habitat. They also supported the city’s long-term strategy of creating a park-like setting for residents.
The vision is to create a city within a park, since the trail system is most valued by residents, said senior planner Kimberley Fils-Aime.
But Wong, a retired city planner, suggested the road extension will be necessary to prevent future traffic congestion along 32nd Street to Red Deer College.
And he questioned why there wasn’t a similar outpouring of ecological concern about the North Highway Connector project, which will eventually add another bridge to the Red Deer River to provide better traffic flow from north to south.
Handley preferred Option 2, which was proposed but not recommended by administration.
It would preserve an alignment across Piper Creek for a narrower connector road with a bridge that spans the creek and allows human and wildlife traffic to pass beneath it.
This would provide less disruption and traffic noise than an arterial roadway, but planners admitted the connector road would not be a major traffic corridor and would still require the future expansion of 19th Street.
Handley said it would provide another exit for Melcor Development Ltd.’s proposed future subdivison on the east side of the creek — as well as a quicker way for emergency vehicles to access the Bower area, which is on the edge of acceptable emergency response times.
City councillors had received a thousand page report — including hundreds of public comments — before the meeting. The paperwork included split results from a non-scientific public opinion survey conducted earlier this year by the city.
About 41 per cent of respondents favoured removing the road alignment from future plans, while 57 per cent favoured of keeping it. (This mirrors the results of an Advocate opinion poll from earlier this year.)
With such close results, Lee suggested putting the question to a public plebiscite on the next municipal election ballot — but this was not supported by the rest of council.
Wyntjes said she expects a “cheer or jeer” reaction regardless of what council decides, but councillors were elected to make these kinds of tough decisions, she said.
Dawe, like several of his council peers, said he would give first reading to the recommended proposal to remove the road alignment, in part, to ensure that the matter goes to a public hearing so everyone can weigh in.
Red Deer city council is grappling with this controversial issue that goes back three decades because Melcor Developments is planning a new subdivision east of Piper Creek and the Bower Place mall, and needs to know whether a four-lane roadway will someday intersect this yet undeveloped land.
The city hasn’t yet hit the 115,000 to 180,000 population benchmark that planners figure should trigger discussions about the road extension.
While the extension of Molly Banister Drive is not in the City of Red Deer’s 10-year capital plan, councillors heard it could be needed by between 2031 to 2046, depending on the city’s annual growth rate.