City council has three scopes of authority that can impact your life: Bylaws, budgets and land use planning. Bylaws determine what you can and cannot do, budgets determine how much money the city needs from you and land use planning determines what your home and neighborhood will look like.
Land use planning has been a passion of mine for some time now. In my opinion, it is what differentiates St. Albert from most other communities. Most communities make use of the Clarence Perry Neighborhood unit, however I believe St. Albert has perfected its application. Curvilinear roads, boulevards with trees, proper setbacks, and abundant parks/green spaces are just a few examples of how St. Albert has become the city we know and love. When you were looking for your home you were probably looking at a home you could afford in a neighborhood you liked, perhaps one with schools or parks nearby or one with good road access. How we plan our land use affects how much our city costs to govern and maintain, thus in a sense land use planning predetermines budgets and bylaws. This is why good land use planning a key success factor for St. Albert. Land use planning, and the decisions that have been made in the past, is often a large part of the reason you decided to move here and it is the reason you are willing to stay here and pay nearly double the property taxes of a comparable home next door in Edmonton.
Since land use planning is so important, it is imperative to determine who gets to have a say in this planning. Some people will state that land use planning should be left to the sole purview of public employees or experts in the field as they have the knowledge to make the best decisions. Other people will often state that developers should have the primary say in land use planning, after all it is their money that is being invested. Lastly, some people figure that the St. Albert residents should have the final say as it is these residents who have invested their money to live in St. Albert and who are going be directly impacted both financially and socially by the land use planning decisions that are made.
Personally, I have always felt that in St. Albert the public should have a say in land use planning. We have some superb historical examples of public involvement in planning, which was a real strength of our community in the past. In my opinion, this strength has been lessened as the public has had less direct involvement and a reduced say in the land use planning happening in their community. Today, our planning system could really be strengthened by including more public involvement. After all, if the public is paying the bills, should they not be entitled to have as much of a say as the developer or the civic employee?
One solution, and my preferred option, is to resurrect our Land Use Planning Commission.
Let me know what you think…