Airdrie resident Gillian Bell started an online petition to stop the re-development of the area where the Airdrie United Church is currently built (212 1 Ave NE). Though Bell said she is acutely aware of the fact that a complete stoppage of the development may be out of reach, she is imploring the city to rethink its current plans.
"What this has done - is create massive awareness. Why would we go into the only character and heritage sites that we have left of Airdrie? I don't want to prevent residential buildings or rental buildings. I just want it to be thought about a little bit more strategically," Bell said.
During the March 2 meeting of the Airdrie Municipal Planning Commission (MPC), the city's administration asked the commission for a recommendation to amend a land use bylaw that would ultimately allow for the redistricting of land and in turn allow for the development of a residential apartment building. Ultimately the MPC voted in favour of the recommendation; with three votes in favour and one vote against.
According to city documents, last summer, the Airdrie United Church (AUC) applied for amendments to the land-use bylaws.
"The proposed amendments will facilitate the redevelopment of the North and South Parcel both of which are located in The Village community. The AUC church building and Community Education Centre (CEC) is currently located on the North Parcel, while the South Parcel is currently undeveloped. The AUC proposes to demolish the AUC church building and CEC on the North Parcel and redevelop both on the South Parcel."
The plan is that in place of the AUC building, an apartment building would be built with 43 to 46 residential units which would be four stories high. The South Parcel would also house a music school and the Airdrie Pregnancy Outreach Center.
"To accommodate parking [for the apartment building], the ground floor of the building will be a carport with a few residential units fronting onto Albert Street and 1 Avenue," said Tega Odogu of the city's Planning and Development.
Bell who was present at the March 2 meeting has echoed in her petition some of the same concerns that were brought up in the March meeting. One of the biggest concerns is parking spaces and traffic safety. Bell said there simply isn't enough room for parking, especially if there were to be a reduction of parking stalls.
Parking & Traffic Safety
Currently, the AUC has 80 parking stalls, with 40 stalls on the North Parcel and another 40 on the South Parcel. The apartment building on the North Parcel would be allotted 45 parking stalls, which would mean a net reduction of 35 parking stalls.
"With the proposed development, the church will only have access to parking on the South Parcel, which currently is proposing 11 stalls," Odogu said.
As far as where parking would be situated, city documents stated that parking or service spaces should be located along the lane or screened from views along 1st Avenue NE with building frontage or amenity spaces.
"Parking areas (surface, carport, or underground) should be primarily accessed from the lane. The Development Authority may support additional parking accessed from 1st Avenue NE only where such access does not compromise the site interface, access for other modes of transportation (pedestrian, cycling, and transit), or traffic flow along 1st Avenue NE," the city cited.
Bell believes this reduction of parking, which is already at capacity now, is imprudent.
"We've just grown too fast, so why would we add to the problem if we don't have to? Parking is always going to be an issue downtown," she said. "There will not be enough stalls for all the vehicles there and they will have to overflow onto the streets."
While a traffic impact study was conducted and the results of that study influenced the parking stall numbers for the new development, Bell noted that the study was done during low-traffic hours.
Councillor Petrow, who is the Council Member Chair of the MPC stated to Discover Airdrie that there will be further discussions about the traffic impact study later on during the development permit stage.
"The City’s Engineering Services Department reviewed and accepted the data provided in the TIA report including the day and time of traffic and parking count. There will be an additional review of the traffic impact study if the development proposal changes or if the city sees the need for additional information during the development permit stage," Petrow wrote.
The traffic impact study was conducted from Saturday, October 29 2022 to Thursday, November 10, 2022, as well as Thursday, November 17, 2022, between the hours of seven a.m. to nine a.m. and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Bell also mentioned that she feels the idea to push the potential development of the building all the way to the property line would cause problems with traffic safety.
"The only access into the parkade is from the alley. So, two vehicles can't fit in and out [or] side by side. My big concern is the way that they want to mass the building will actually prevent anybody from being able to see coming out of the laneway," she said. "Because it'll be so big; kids walking to school - you'll have that blind sport. It makes me feel very uncomfortable."
Heritage & History Lost
Bell, like others during the March 2 meeting also said she is worried that a piece of Airdrie's history will be lost forever to development.
Member of the MPC, Aaron Holmes said that the loss of the AUC is not unlike the loss of other historical sites in Airdrie.
"There used to be an Airdrie hotel and it's not there anymore. The site's been vacant for quite some time. It would be a double tragedy to lose the church and then not have something come back," he said. "Can administration give me any confidence that if this is approved, some kind of development that looks substantially like what we're seeing tonight, will go ahead in relatively short order?"
Odogu reassured Holmes that the applicant (AUC) is very eager for the development applications to go through, hence she said that it is highly unlikely a vacant lot would occur if and when the church is demolished.
Bell, however, spoke to many Airdronians who reached out to her and said there are very deep roots that have been put down in the church, from baptisms to weddings; memories which are held near and dear to the hearts of those who attended the church, but also of other residents who have come to see the church as a staple of old architecture in a city that is ever-evolving and growing.
"I've had a lot of community outreach, specifically a lot of old family names. Their biggest concerns are, they were baptized, they were married there, and they were buried there. It's a space for them to be able to go back to their children and say, 'your great grandparents helped build this.'"
Although the land use-bylaw amendment recommendation was passed, Councillor Petrow, who was the only vote against the recommendation, noted that this is one step of many before any real construction work would commence.
"As is the first step in a process like this, the Land Use Bylaw public hearing will take place at Council on March 20, 2023. An application for a Development Permit (DP) that would allow for construction would follow if Council adopts the bylaw," she wrote.
Thus far, Bell's online petition has amassed over 1,000 signatures.
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