Business owners have their say in downtown planning

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

The real challenge, said consultant Dnyanesh Deshpande at last month’s Main Street planning workshop, “is how to achieve vibrancy in the downtown core.”

Probably nobody disagreed with that. Achieving a vibrant downtown may not have been the primary concern for some participants (Cornerstone business managers, for example), but nobody was against the notion. Some attendees had specific, business-related issues with regard to restrictions put on them or enforced by the town. Others were (or seemed to be) there simply out of a desire to help make Slave Lake a better place.

The workshop was another step in the development of two major TOSL planning documents; one is the Main Street Area Plan and the other is the Urban Design Handbook. The first goes zone by zone (or district by district, if you prefer) and says what’s permitted, what’s not permitted and what might be permitted (the so-called ‘discretionary use’ designation).

So for example, a discussion at one of the tables took on bulk fuel stations: should they be allowed in the C3 – Highway Commercial – District? No they shouldn’t, was the consensus. They should be in an industrial zone. This contradicted what was proposed.

Also proposed: that cinemas and dinner theatres should not be allowed in the C3, but should be in the downtown area.

It should be noted that the area under discussion goes well beyond what most people think of as ‘downtown’ Slave Lake, running the length of Main St. from Caribou Trail to the Cornerstone shopping area, and the Hwy. 2 zone from about Hwy. 88 west to Caribou Trail.

But before all that discussion, participants were asked to introduce themselves and mention any ‘hot topics’ they had in mind. Town councillor Darin Busk said his was homelessness. He called it “a blight on our downtown business core.”

One business owner talked of creating “a sense of community.” For another, it was a feeling of being restricted on what commercial tenants (in the C2 district) are allowed to do.

One downtown property owner said trees obscuring signs is a problem for her. For another downtown business owner, it was the rules regarding what could be put in (or maybe on) windows. Yet another had issues with what the town charges for a license to hold a flea market.

Property and pizzaria owner (and Chamber of Commerce board member) Ali Mouallem said the newly-proposed ‘Urban Village’ district was something he was interested in finding out more about. (It’s a combination of commercial and medium to high-density residential, south of the tracks on the east side of Main St.)

About 30 people took part in the workshop, which was facilitated by Green Space Alliance, the urban planning firm hired by the town to produce the new pair of plans. It ran for 2½ hours on the morning of June 26. The consultant will compile the input from the session and use it to produce the final version of its plan. The schedule calls for that version to come before council for ratification in October.

Asked for a comment, mayor Tyler Warman said:
“I think the meeting was a good next step. There is still work to be done obviously but it was great to see such a great turnout for the meeting. The business community highlighted some major issues (such as) development, homelessness, and land use. We are working through the feedback they have given to…modify the plan to be something that businesses can support and a product that will actually help move the community forward. I think it was great discussion and debate and it was obvious we have some passionate people out there. I am excited to see a big group like that bring more feedback in the future.”

An example of a new type of zoning proposed along Main St.

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