Council votes to move ahead with Downtown Plan
Thursday, Apr 20, 2017 06:00 am
After almost two hours of debate April 18, Airdrie city council approved a request from staff to move ahead with the next steps to develop a new Downtown Plan by a vote of five to two.
Coun. Allan Hunter and Coun. Darrell Belyk voted against the motion to move forward with development of the plan, citing a need for more public consultation and research. Both councillors also said they had concerns about the statistical validity of the online survey that was conducted as part of the public consultation.
Hunter grilled Team Leader of Planning and Development Stephen Utz about the results and process for the public consultation undertaken by administration from January 30 through March 1.
“I always have a challenge when we ask staff to come back with reports and zero in on recommendations,” Hunter said.
A public visioning exercise to look at what Airdrie’s downtown might look like was approved by city council Nov. 21, 2016.
According to Utz, the city’s existing Downtown Plan was adopted in 2008 and is somewhat out of date. He said the last time a comprehensive Downtown Plan involving public consultation was completed was in 1999.
Council approved up to $100,000 in the 2017 operating budget for the development of the new Downtown Plan.
Hunter said he wanted to know what elements of previously completed plans involving the downtown – in 1999, 2002 and 2008 – had been implemented.
“What I’m trying to get at is, if we’re going to do this again, we have to look at what we didn’t implement last time,” he said. “It’s a visioning exercise as well.”
Utz reiterated staff had been directed to complete a visioning exercise and further consultation with landowners, business owners in the downtown core and all other stakeholders would be done.
“The mandate from council was to conduct a downtown visioning exercise. It indicated we were to investigate with the public what their vision of the downtown was,” Utz said. “We indicated we’d be doing a survey that would be open and inclusive...and we’d look for any duplications (of answers) and remove those so as to not bias the results.”
Utz said staff went through all the survey responses and removed any duplications that were verbatim and submitted within minutes of each other.
City Manager Paul Schulz added staff completed the work they were directed by council to do.
“I just want us to be very clear...what we said we’d do to council in terms of workshops and all those formats is what happened,” he said. “Tonight is simply providing a summary of results. As stated in the report, it was never intended to provide absolute statistical validity.”
Coun. Candice Kolson said she believed it was time for council to develop a new Downtown Plan.
“We increased the budget in order to make sure that everybody’s voice was heard fully across the board and that we had a really great cohesive vision to move forward for the city of Airdrie,” she said.
“I guess I’m just not understanding the reluctancy to move forward on bringing people together to have, as stated in the report, significant consultation, collaboration with landowners, agencies, our special interest groups.”
According to Utz, 87 per cent of residents who participated in the public consultation, whether through a workshop, focus group or online survey, indicated they had negative impressions of downtown.
“We had approximately 30 per cent say it was uninteresting...23 per cent said it was outdated, 11 per cent non-existent, six per cent small, et cetera,” he said.
More than 7,500 comments on the current state of downtown were received through the various engagement methods. The ability to provide feedback was also extended to the members of the Airdrie Board of Youth Affairs and residents of Cedarwood Station, an assisted living facility.
Ultimately, council voted to accept the recommendation of staff to move forward with the development of a new Downtown Plan.
Future steps include determining the planning boundary for what constitutes downtown Airdrie, a methodology to complete the plan and further consultation/collaboration with stakeholders.