When the City of Airdrie Planning Department embarks on an exercise to prepare a new Downtown Plan for Airdrie in 2017, they will do so with the input of residents. A public visioning exercise to look at what Airdrie’s downtown might look like was approved by City council Nov. 21.
“A motion of council Oct. 3 asked staff to return to council with information regarding the status of the downtown redevelopment plan and the potential moving up of the public engagement process for the plan, which includes the Airdrie Main Street Square (AMSQ) lands,” said Stephen Utz, acting team leader, Planning and Development.
Plans for a major redevelopment of Airdrie’s downtown, known as The Square, were halted Nov. 7 after 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 and the lack of public consultation on the proposed project.
According to Utz, the City’s existing Downtown Plan was adopted in 2008 and is somewhat out of date and his department had planned to begin work on a new plan in 2017, regardless of the controversy surrounding the AMSQ lands.
“The current Downtown Plan does incorporate the AMSQ lands and the assumption made by administration in all matters going forward is that in all likelihood the Main Street Square lands would be within the geographic scope of the future Downtown Plan, whatever it may end up being,” he said.
A request for $50,000 to begin preparing the new Downtown Plan in 2017 has been increased to $100,000 to allow for additional public consultation and the hiring of an external consultant if necessary.
“We’ve assumed there will be three larger phases of public engagement,” Utz said. “The first would be some sort of envisioning exercise to get the plan started and prepare for the framework.”
With council’s approval of staff’s recommendation, Utz said that envisioning exercise could begin early in 2017.
“We would use 2016 budget dollars in order to start that process as soon as possible in 2017,” he said.
Utz said while staff are still determining exactly what the public engagement might look like, it could include things like open houses and facilitated community conversations.
“(Residents) could come out and talk to us about the expected land use and services and activities they expect to see in a downtown, how they might define the geographic boundary of downtown, what downtown is, was and could be and what some of the strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities are for the downtown,” he said.
Councillor Ron Chapman said he felt council should move ahead with public engagement.
“I think we need to get this started as soon as we can. We saw what happened recently. I think it’s imperative,” he said. “Get the ball rolling now and see what’s out there from everybody.”
Councillor Allan Hunter, who has contributed to the Airdrie Engaged Facebook page since resigning from the AMSQ board in October, said he would prefer to put development of a new downtown plan off until after the next municipal election in 2017. Hunter made a motion to that effect, which failed to win the majority of council approval.
“This seems to be important to this council and this administration but what I’m hearing in the community is that it isn’t quite as important,” Hunter said. “To have it presented very early in the mandate of a new council, assume there will be some new members of council for sure…I’ll be supporting what I hear in the community that we need to put this off for another incoming council.”
Staff’s recommendation to begin public engagement on a new Downtown Plan for Airdrie was supported by a vote of five to two with Hunter and Councillor Darrell Belyk voting against the motion.