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Council avoids backing up on approved Main Street design plans

There's no turning back now ... Keep on truckin' ... been there, done that, got the sidewalk bulb-outs to prove it.

LAC LA BICHE - There's no turning back now... Keep on truckin'... been there, done that, got the sidewalk bulb-outs to prove it.

Lac La Biche County councillor eventually smoothed out a bump in the road during their discussions last week for the design plans of the new downtown streetscape. The plans, that will see sidewalk bulb-outs at intersections, some reductions in downtown parking stalls, and a one-way traffic flow along a portion of 101 Street, were approved by council months ago — but some on council seemed to be suggesting a U-turn on those plans at last Tuesday's council meeting. 

When the hired designer and architects introduced the approved plans as a "dropping off point" to get ready for the next stage of planning, they re-stated that the 20-metre long sidewalk treatments at each intersection — the bulb-outs — would affect the number of parking stalls in front of businesses.

Owl River councillor Sterling Johnson had some questions.

"That's 20 metres, so 60 feet. That's at least two parking stalls  ... so we are going to be losing how many parking stalls? I never envisioned these bulb-outs would be that long," he said adding up the number of affected parking areas all the way down Main Street if the bulb-outs are at each intersection. 

The designers said those concerns had been raised prior to council's approval of the plan. They also said the utilization of parking areas along the alleyway south of Main Street could be used, and that perhaps the parallel parking stalls on some side streets could be changed to angle parking. 

While some around the council table also seemed to question the approval of the plan, councillor Lorin Tkachuk bluntly told council they need to move on. He said public consultation, traffic impacts and parking issues had already been discussed prior to council's approval of the plan.

"I thought we did all that already. All this should have already been communicated to the public. In my opinion we are taking two steps back here," he said. "The design has been approved. This is what we are doing. Sorry to be blunt, but we need to get going on this." 

At an April meeting, council chopped several items off the streetscape plans, including outdoor speakers, drinking fountains, an emergency booth and non-illuminated parking barriers. A June 22 meeting saw council approve the latest streetscape plan from the design company, including the bulb-outs. Only councillor L'Heureux was opposed. Coucillor Johnson was not in the meeting at the time of the vote. 

Finishing Phase 1

The second phase of the three-phase downtown project is slated to begin in May of 2022. Phase 2 will see Main Street pavement, underground utilities, sidewalk and lighting upgrades from 103 Street to 101 Street.

Other concerns were raised over the amount of time and business interruption the next phase of the downtown streetscape would take, with Johnson again pointing out that the current Phase 1 project that is replacing underground utilities and sidewalks on the western limits of 101 Avenue, is taking a long time.

"Look at that mud and the standing water and ... and traffic holdups," he said, cautioning other councillors to pay attention to the work schedule, " and this is just for a few services."

He said the business community will not want to be held up when it's time for the work to take place on the central downtown roadway.

That business consultation, however, has already been addressed, said Mayor Omer Moghrabi, saying that local merchants have been given opportunities to comment on the project over the last year. Ongoing open houses about the project have also been running every two weeks since July.

"We've done a lot of work and we've worked with the businesses," he said.

Lac La Biche County's chief administrative officer Ken VanBuul said despite the ongoing campaign, some residents, business people, and it seems from the discussion at the council table, some coucillors, may still not be clear about the project.

"One of the things we've learned with the businesses and the public is that there are differing degrees of expectations — not only on the Phase 1, but on the future Phase 2 and 3 plans," he said, encouraging continued communication and engagement as the projects roll ahead. "We need to make sure that the council, the administration and the public are getting the same message."

With council moving ahead — again — with the plans, some additional work will continue in relation to the design. Parking options will continue to be investigated in the downtown area and more opportunities for communicating with the public will be arranged.

The design team said they brought the plans back to council not so much for any changes or reversals, but more as a "departure point" allowing the planning team to continue to move forward on the streetscape plan.

The overall cost for the three-phase project has been pegged at more than $14 million. 

The replacement of old utility infrastructure in Phase 1 is scheduled to be completed by October 15. The Phase 1 plan also includes a $500,000 upgrade to the Richard Devonian Park. That upgrade will include community garden plots, a sitting area and wall surrounds. The Richard Devonian Park is named for Sid Richard, a long-time community resident known for his support of youth and child programming.