Redeveloping part of Red Deer’s greater downtown into an artsy place with different venues and medium-density living will be the most important thing that the City of Red Deer will do over the next decade, says a Red Deer city councillor.
Paul Harris said the development of Riverlands — an area west of Taylor Drive that’s currently made up of light industrial and commercial businesses — into a thriving place of mixed uses will be big for the entire city. He called the Riverlands Area Redevelopment Plan a “brilliant” document.
The planning document was given first reading in council chambers on Tuesday.
A public hearing will be held on Monday Oct. 3 at 6 p.m. before final readings are held that night.
“I like the way it connects to the downtown, to our river valley and to our trail systems,” said Harris, a downtown businessman.
“Over the 10 years I’ve been involved in and out of the process, I’ve heard from our citizens and business owners on hundreds of occasions.”
Harris said he anticipates most people will be happy with redevelopment plans, including on the former civic yards property.
“Once this starts to unfold, the few naysayers are going to see what a beautiful blessing this will be to our community,” said Harris.
The document suggests the development of various civic/cultural facilities including the possibility of a performing arts centre. Storefronts and sidewalk patios would promote activity day and night, plus public art and other gathering spaces. The objective is to have 2,500 people live in Riverlands by 2031. The majority of the area will be zoned to allow medium density housing, with a height limit of 4.5 storeys.
Plus, it looks at improved pedestrian and vehicle access between Riverlands and the rest of downtown.
Councillor Chris Stephan was the sole one to vote against first reading because he was concerned about the traffic changes that would affect area businesses. He was told that his concerns should be addressed through the Taylor Drive Concept Plan, which had not yet come forward in Tuesday’s meeting.
“There are a lot of business owner concerns and they’re important stakeholders, so we need to have proper consultation to ensure we have a better plan before we move to the next stage,” said Stephan.
City manager Craig Curtis said there has been followup input with business owners and that Downtown Co-ordinator Charity Dyke has met with a number of them.
“There are some accesses to a couple of individual properties that are going to be reviewed, but overall the comments at the (area redevelopment plan meeting held earlier) and from the public have been positive,” Curtis said.
Councillor Tara Veer said she’s in strong favour of the plan. The key is making sure that public access and riverfront views are protected, she added.
Councillor Cindy Jefferies, former chairwoman of the Greater Downtown Action Plan committee, said the document will give certainty for those who are looking at investing in the area or those who have undeveloped property and they’re wondering what the future uses will be.
Councillor Frank Wong, who voted in favour of first reading, shared some concerns regarding parking. “This area is going to be constricted by physical boundaries so there’s no overflow parking,” he said. “If you don’t have it on site, then where are you going to park?”
He also wondered why a pedestrian bridge needed to be built across the Red Deer River to Bower Ponds was needed when another current one is not that far away. Jefferies replied that the existing bridge is used by about 600 people every day and it’s close to other bridges.
“It’s a public feature and amenity that will change the way our downtown works,” she said.