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Innisfail takes huge step forward on housing

Innisfail town council unanimously approves Ontario-based developer’s plan to transform Dodd’s Lake-area pioneer farmland into a modern resort-style development

INNISFAIL – A long-envisioned massive residential development plan on the northeast side of Dodd’s Lake has finally been approved by Innisfail town council; a project featuring low to high-density housing and touted as a game changer to kick-start the community’s current and future housing needs.

The approved development, which covers an area of almost 128 acres, has been earmarked for development since 2011 but was sold by the Greenwood family in 2022 to Ontario-based developer Evertrust Development Group Canada.

“My great-grandfather homesteaded on the property in 1884 where the old brick house was, so it was a difficult, very difficult situation for us to decide whether we sold it or not,” said Chris Greenwood to a packed town council gallery on Aug. 28.

Greenwood and his family had looked to have their quarter section of property up for development since 2011 before selling it to Evertrust in 2022. His mother, Margaret ‘Shirley’ Patricia Greenwood, passed away last December.

“Looking at the grander scope of things my mom right now would roll over in her grave, she'd be so happy,” said Greenwood. “If everything they (Evertrust) say in their marketing plan comes to fruition it's going to change Innisfail forever, and it will change for the good.”

At council’s regular meeting on Aug. 28, second and third readings were unanimously passed for several bylaws to move the project forward, including one to adopt a New Land Use District for High Density Residential Development, as well as a New Dodd’s Lake Outline Plan (DLOP) that details Evertrust’s ambitious 10-phase development plan that will take more than a decade to complete.

Jerry Celenza, sales manager for Evertrust Development Group Canada, told council and the public gallery through a conference call on Aug. 28 his company is building 10 new communities across two provinces, with Innisfail being the first in Alberta.

“We feel this is going to be a great opportunity for Innisfail and Alberta,” said Celenza, whose company is both developer and builder of the Dodd’s Lake project. “We see a lot of opportunity, especially nowadays with affordability being such a big issue and with Ontario being extremely expensive and the same with B.C.

 “We see Alberta being in a position that's in high demand for people to want to move there, as you guys are already experiencing.”

Gordon Shaw, the town’s manager of community development services, told the gallery at the public hearing that Evertrust’s development plan, which will border about 544 metres of the north shoreline of Dodd's Lake, aims to create 101 townhouse units, including lake-fronting homes. The starting price point for each unit is projected to be $299,000.

The project’s residential plan also calls for a variety of low to high-density housing types at a broad range of price points.

These include lower density single-detached dwelling homes, semi-detached (duplex) dwelling units and multi-family residential units; notably a central community node fronting onto Dodd’s Lake that features mixed-use at-grade commercial buildings and four to six storey residential units; the latter a discretionary use that must be approved by Innisfail’s Municipal Planning Commission.

“This area is intended to be a year-round central gathering space for residents of the apartments, neighbourhood and the town,” said the DLOP.

Celenza said Evertrust also envisions the project to have resort-style amenities such as continuous pathways, a boardwalk along Dodd’s Lake’s shoreline, restaurants, shops, a clubhouse with a pool, sauna, fitness areas and even a golf simulator.

 No single detached or semi-attached housing is contemplated in the first phase, which will be in the southeast corner of the property adjacent to the lake and the C & E Trail with first shovels anticipated to start digging in the ground by late 2024 or early 2025.

The first phase will also include a major collector road connecting to the C&E Trail along a different alignment than previously planned in the first decade-old plan.

Like the earlier vision, this plan contemplates a grand boulevard into the community from the C&E Trail.

The new plan also sets aside a total of 24.3 acres for environmental reserve lands (8.3 acres) and municipal reserves (16 acres); the latter to create parks and open spaces.

During the public hearing council was presented with several citizen presentations of the planned development.

Randy Miller was concerned about the future welfare of pelicans and eagles, while Dale Myers was worried that development north of the railway track would adversely impact emergency services.

 “I believe our fire department is not equipped or trained for four-storey high (buildings). We don't have the equipment,” said Myers.

“I'm concerned on any housing developments on the north side of town, unless we have a plan on how we're going to help those people in case of emergency.”

Local business owner Doug Bos said he was neither in favour or against the development plan but added there was a benefit of having a high-density housing area in town, especially if the proposed starting price point is set at $299,000.

“We got a lot of new Canadians coming all the time, and I think being an all-inclusive community we're trying to welcome those folks,” said Bos. “You would draw a lot of those folks here, and hopefully fill some of the labour shortages we have in town. They seem to be very hardworking and want to put in a day's work for a day’s paid.”

Following all public presentations, Town of Innisfail Mayor Jean Barclay said she was voting in favour of the project because the Evertrust initiative was a “long overdue” opportunity to address community concerns she’s heard for each of her six years on council.

Barclay pointed out last week that town council will have a Strategy Planning Session on Housing on Sept. 21, which follows the 2023 Housing Needs Assessment that was presented to council on Aug. 14; a document designed to form the basis of future housing initiatives and a housing action plan.

“The reality now is that with a single-family starter home you're likely looking at a minimum of $400,000, maybe 450, so we need to do something,” said Barclay, noting other communities have been successful with building row housing and “being creative.

“So that next step, and who knows what that might look like,” she added. “That could be under CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation), and the affordable housing initiatives they have, and it could be all sorts of things.

“But that needs to be a discussion with administration and council to see where we take that, and then you need somebody that wants to do that.”

Barclay pointed out the community already has properties that could be suitable at a lower price point, including eastside four-plexes and an apartment building on 48th Street. However, she added all are currently standing empty.

“There's opportunities out there but it's a matter of bringing together current owners of those properties with potential new owners,” said Barclay. “We take a lot of criticism on housing but you can't make a private owner do something with their properties that they don't want.

“That's the frustrating part for many of us,” she added. “We see what the need is but that hasn't been necessarily happening and how do you help that along?”


Johnnie Bachusky

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