Plans for a major redevelopment of Airdrie’s downtown, known as The Square, came to a screeching halt Oct. 3 when the board of Airdrie Main Street Square (AMSQ) voted to move all decisions on the project to the purview of City council.
“For certain, the process didn’t work so we’re putting the brakes on,” Mayor Peter Brown said during the Oct. 3 City council meeting. “Everything happens at the council table from now on, going forward, as to what the vision – if there is a vision, how it would work, what it would look like – all of those things start here.”
Brown said some of the information will be carried over from the AMSQ to council including the architectural specifications. Brown also said formal public consultation will continue – an initial public open house was held Sept. 27 but only after an invitation-only event Sept. 8 raised the ire of some residents.
According to Brown, the AMSQ also listened to public feedback and will reconfigure the board to potentially include public members.
“We need to have a meeting to determine how many members we’ll have, what that will look like, what kind of skill set we want on that board…and what the ultimate responsibilities will be of that board,” Brown said. “That needs to be clarified.”
The move came after significant public outcry about the way the project was announced and how the AMSQ board functioned. Questions arose about the cost of the project, possible conflict of interest because the AMSQ board was comprised of all members of City council plus the city manager and director of finance, and the lack of public consultation on the proposed project.
A request for proposal for architectural services closed Oct. 4 and, according to City Manager Paul Schulz, would have no further action taken on it.
The move appeared to please many in attendance at the council meeting. However, Councillor Allan Hunter, who resigned from the AMSQ board earlier in the day citing concerns over the composition and actions of the board, immediately made a motion to have three residents named to the board immediately.
“I’m a little confused because we’ve basically said, ‘Everything stops, the process begins again,’” Brown said. “(With all our boards) we open up invitations to the public to apply.
“The next meeting of the (AMSQ) board will be to determine exactly what that looks like and I don’t want to limit it to three. Maybe it’s five – we can have up to 15 members.”
Hunter’s motion was defeated after none of his fellow council members voted in favour.
“(This would) get the public engaged immediately and, in my mind, put some trust and confidence back into the process that has been very flawed from the beginning,” Hunter said.
Brown said Hunter was part of that “flawed process” for two years as a member of the AMSQ board, a comment that elicited clapping from some in attendance.
“It’s a little frustrating to hear,” Brown said. “I wish you didn’t resign from the board because you would have been a catalyst in that conversation for this change.”
Marnie Marr, one of the residents Hunter asked be appointed to the AMSQ board, said she “completely understood” why council didn’t vote for the motion and she knew there was a process to be followed.
Marr said she was concerned about a possible conflict of interest that might exist if the AMSQ board continued to have City staff as members.
“Staff should be there in an advisory role, not in a voting role,” she said. “That’s really a massive conflict. The people who are actually carrying out the decisions don’t get to make the decisions – that’s how oversight works.”
According to Brown, administration would be directed to return with information and recommendations regarding what the composition of the AMSQ board should be to an upcoming council meeting.