City seeking proposals to develop former Angus Merasty School site in West Hill

The future of the site of the former Angus Merasty School, seen here in this file photo from 2019, was the subject of discussion at Monday’s executive committee meeting. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

The debate over whether to sell the former Angus Merasty School site to a private developer or leave it in City hands began at city council on Monday, although Mayor Greg Dionne cautioned residents that discussions were still in the very early stages.

Council approved a proposal from the Department of Planning and Development on Monday allowing developers to submit an expression of interest (EOI). That would allow private developers to outline their plans for the three-acre property without the City making a firm commitment.

Dionne said he’s already taking calls from residents asking about the City’s plans for the site. He urged them to remain patient as the City considers its options.

“This is a process that’s going to take a while,” Dionne said during Monday’s executive committee meeting. “It’s not going to happen tomorrow.”

The EOI requires developers to include green spaces as part of their plan, regardless of whether they’re proposing single-dwelling houses, apartment complexes or some other type of development.

While some councillors expressed interest in keeping the area as a large park, Dionne said he has little interest in that idea. Ideally, he’d like to see something similar to the park and playground that opened on Muzzy Drive back in 2019, but paid for by the developer instead of the City.

“I certainly wouldn’t support a three-acre park,” he told council. “We have parks all over. When we did our master plan to grow the city, we plopped green spaces all over the (map).”

Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick was the most vocal councillor to support leaving the area as a large green space. Ogrodnick said the City already has plenty of lots for sale in other parts of the City, and a shortage of green space in the West Hill. He urged council to think carefully about whether another housing development was really the best option.

“I’m not opposed to development at all. I’m not opposed to housing and what-have-you,” Ogrodnick said during the meeting. “I just think that it would be a nice area to leave as park space. I know Mayor Dionne’s not going to agree with me. That’s fine. We can disagree, but I hope that is one of our options as well. I’m not sure we need more lots for sale at this point.”

Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski, who represents the ward where the Angus Merasty School site is located, said West Hill have already lost amenities like the sliding hill at Arthur Pechey School, and the old Angus Merasty playground itself. He said there’s definitely a desire for more green space in the area, but added that there’s no hurry to make a final decision.

“It wouldn’t bother me for that land to sit like it is for a number of years until things pick up in the province and then take a look at it to see what other proposals come forward from the private developers,” Zurakowski said during a phone interview on Tuesday. “I’ve certainly not heard any rush on the part of the residents to move forward with some development there, and I absolutely concur.”

Zurakowski said he hopes a few local developers will listen to residents and include much needed green space in their proposal. However, he also emphasized that the city wasn’t promising anything just yet.

“What I do like is (Planning and Development) went with an expression of interest, so it wasn’t a set plan thrown out into the universe saying, ‘this is what we want,’” he explained. “This is throwing it out to the professionals who’ve done this before, (saying) ‘come back to us with what your ideas are,’ without any commitment from the city’s part.”

City administrators said they plan to give residents a look at the best EOI proposal at a public meeting before sending it to council. If there’s significant interest, Zurakowski said that meeting could be held as early as this fall.

Planning and Development Director Craig Guidinger says the property presents a unique opportunity for the City. He called the site a “perfect infill project, primed for development” during Monday’s meeting, but said the department will focus on all options before bringing a recommendation to council.

Guidinger said West Hill residents have shown significant interest in the site’s future development. At Monday, he urged them to remember that selling the property is just one option they’re exploring.

“We believe, as planners, that this is an opportunity for us to provide something that isn’t provided in the City right now, and that is development within an infill neighbourhood, surrounded by a very, very well established, beautiful (area) in the West Hill,” he explained. “When you talk to some of those residents, they are a very passionate group of people. They want to see that property developed in a fashion that certainly suits their interests and those of the City as well.”

Guidinger said they’ve already held one meeting with local residents to hear their questions and concerns. He said the most common concern was the size of any proposed park spaces, and the types of housing developments up for consideration.

“As a planner, my vision for that property is single-family dwellings, however, again, during the expression of interest, we invite those private developers to share their vision with us as well,” he said.

The City of Prince Albert acquired the former Angus Merasty School property in 2019 in a trade with the Prince Albert Grand Council. The PAGC received the Parkland Community Hall in the West Flat in return.

The City has an agreement to give 10 per cent of the proceeds to the PAGC if they agree to sell the land to a developer.