After a nearly four-and-a-half-hour public hearing and deliberation on Monday evening, Airdrie's City Council unanimously voted to defeat a proposed amendment to the land-use bylaw regarding redistricting in The Village neighbourhood of Airdrie. 

The proposed amendment to the existing bylaw would have allowed Airdrie's United Church (AUC) to move ahead in their plans for redevelopment on both the North (216 1 Avenue NE) and South parcels (132 Bowers Street NE). The proposed re-development would include the demolition of the church's current building, located on the north lot, which would be then rebuilt on the south lot, while a proposed 4-storey apartment, with 40-some suites, would be built on the north lot.

Joel Den Haan, the Coordinating Consultant to Airdrie United Church, who was also present at the public hearing on Monday evening had previously enumerated to Discover Airdrie that there are multiple, serious structural and safety concerns with the church's current building.

"We have multiple sump pumps attempting to keep the basement dry and that is a very challenging task. The building itself is changing itself in ways that are going to be very hard to fix and available funding for historic resources are simply inadequate to the cost and the estimates that we've received for the kind of structural work we need to do." 

Though a handful of individuals did publically state during the hearing they were in favour of the land-use bylaw being amended- namely those either working or affiliated with the church, the majority of those who came to speak before the council, as well as those who wrote and submitted letters were vehemently opposed to the amendment of the bylaw. 

Throughout the evening, members of the public said they were not opposed to change and were sympathetic to the church's predicament with the potential of outsized costs for repairing the structural problems, with many Airdrie residents sharing how they are deeply and personally tied to the Church, either through memories or faith.

However, both council members and the public had recurring concerns, which included the number of parking stalls proposed, as well as traffic congestion and safety issues, and the lingering questions about whether or not the church's building could classify for heritage status. The issue of how a proposed four-storey apartment building would dramatically alter the appeal and the character of The Village was also voiced several times. 

Parking and traffic safety continue to be concerns

Den Haan stated to Discover Airdrie previously that at present the church currently has at its disposal 48 parking stalls.

According to the city administration's presentation on March 20, the proposed apartment building on the north parcel would provide a minimum of 43 residential units with 45 parking stalls.

Graphic provided by the City of Airdrie during a public hearing on the proposed amendment to a bylaw that would allow for redistricting in Airdrie's 'The Village' Graphic provided by the City of Airdrie during a public hearing on the proposed amendment to a bylaw that would allow for redistricting in Airdrie's 'The Village' 

"This is 30 less than what is required under the land use bylaw. The 45 parking stalls provide one stall for each of the 43 units, leaving two visitor parking stalls. The traffic impact assessment concluded that 45 parking stalls are adequate for the apartment building based on the target market size of units being proposed which is related to the number of people per household,"  Tega Odogu of the city's Planning and Development stated.

The south parcel of land, which would see the Airdrie United Church's building rebuilt, as well as the Pregnancy Outreach Center, and the Airdre Music school would contain 11 surface parking stalls.

"This is six fewer [stalls] than what is required on the land use bylaw. The traffic impact assessment supports reduced parking for this development as well based on the parking demand for the different land uses being proposed, and the availability of on-street parking within a two-block radius."

Councillors all voiced concerns over the number of parking stalls, including what the potential hazards would be if there were to be an increase in parking along 1st Avenue. Councillor Jones pointed out that if those living in the newly developed apartments were to have guests over, there would be an inevitable situation of cars parked along the roadways near houses.

"At this proposed density with so few parking stalls... I'm really having a hard time picturing how this is going to work," he said.

However, the parking stall issue was also addressed with respect to the south parcel, with councillors pointing out that the 11 stalls allotted did not seem to be enough to accommodate parents or children who might be coming and going to the Airdrie Music Center. 

Members of Airdrie's United Church underlined, however, that because the church's services would not run concurrent with music lessons or activities, the parking could be accommodated. 

"Part of the application is that the AUC is proposing to downsize. I want to make that clear. I believe the current occupant load of the church is 230 or 240 occupants, that is not going to be the case in the new facility," said Bryan Gartner, who presented with other members of the AUC. "We're looking at 40 to 50 as a standard occupant load in the [new] multipurpose space."

However, those who were in attendance at the hearing were not sold on the idea. Nearly every individual who spoke before the council, lobbying against the amendment to the bylaw, mentioned that given the fact that the area is already quite busy with school drop-offs on weekdays and with certain events that are hosted by the Airdrie Farmer's Market.

The Traffic Impact Study which was previously brought up at the March 2 meeting of the Airdrie Municipal Planning Commission (MPC) was also heavily scrutinized. 

Although the study was conducted on Saturday, October 29 2022 and Thursday, November 10, 2022, between the hours of 10 a.m. till 6 p.m., as well as Thursday, November 17, 2022, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. as well as 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., many questioned whether the dates and times had captured a holistic view of the traffic ebbs and flow in the area. 

During his closing remarks, Den Haan said there is room for collaboration on the issue.

"It's clear to me based on what I hear this evening, that there needs to be some kind of a collaborative strategy around parking and traffic management for the entire village. I am concerned that residents are experiencing distress due to parking and traffic issues in what is actually quite a vibrant little community," he said. "I am reluctant to say that our particular project should be the one to carry the can for all of the parking issues in the neighbourhood. That said, we are willing to sit at the table and collaborate on this." 

The potential of heritage site status causes confusion 

Gillian Bell, who had started an online petition opposing the re-development of the church properties, prompted a flurry of discussion when she presented. 

Previously, the council, including Mayor Peter Brown, had been under the assumption that because the church had gone through numerous modifications during its time, it was not possible to obtain heritage status that would allow for the application of both federal and provincial grants. However, Bell said that she had been in contact with architects from a firm in Calgary (Lemay) who had in fact informed her that they had done previous work restoring older buildings so that they could be assessed for heritage status and funding.

The City's Culture and Heritage Strategist, Michelle Jorgensen, further confirmed to the city council that a heritage designation was possible.

"The historical resources act of Alberta does allow for the designation of municipal historic resources; the site would meet the levels that would need to be established for it to be designated as a municipal historic resource. It does still possess the heritage significance, and it does possess heritage integrity," she said. "The municipality, pursuant to the historical resources act, after giving notice to the owner of 60 days notice, may by bylaw designate any historic resource within the municipality, whose preservation it considers to be in the public interest, together with any land in an order on which it is located that may be specified in that bylaw, as a municipal historic resource."

She added that part of the bylaw would stipulate that work couldn't be done to the building without the municipality approving it.

Councillor Jones, however, underlined that while this could be done, there is still an issue of funding.

"Who would have to apply for these millions of dollars that Ms. Bell just spoke to? Would it be the church? Or would it be the municipality? Just designating it as a historical resource does nothing if nothing can be done with the building if it's unsafe," Councillor Jones asked. "That part would still have to be spoken to. Would we apply for grants on behalf of our historical designation on a property we don't own or would it be incumbent on the United Church to apply for these historical grants?"

Jorgensen clarified that if a building is deemed to be preserved, the conservation project would have to be a collaboration between the property owners and the municipality for support to apply for grants

"In addition to the designation a compensation agreement [would have to be] reached with the property owner for any perceived economic decrease in value of the building or structure or land that is within the area designated by that bylaw."

"We would pretty much have to open up the taxpayers' chequebook to do so," Councillor Jones said.

Councillor Kolson also asked the public speakers at the hearing what their thoughts were on the matter concerning public funds being potentially used in one way or another to potentially preserve the church's building. She underlined that some may find this to be an overstep between the clear boundaries of church and state; however, residents who spoke at the hearing did not equivocally answer one way or another in this regard.  

Den Haan however, said that this conversation should have been had several years ago.

"There is no statement of historical significance in place on this site. The city has had a significant opportunity to have that conversation with us over the past 11 years and we've been more than open to it. We are not rejecting it; even now, the opportunity proceeded to preserve the building," Den Haan stated. "We can set up a variety of management agreements; we can seek funding together. We can work together on this. We are running out of time because our financial clock really reached its limit at the end of 2022. 

At the end of the evening, the council opted that administration be directed to waive the six-month waiting period and that the applicants consult further with the administration and return with a new application for the council's consideration.

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