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Old Posted Sep 3, 2008, 12:17 AM
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P.A. plan targets poor neighbourhood
West Flat area listed as priority for redevelopment
Charlene Tebbutt, The StarPhoenix
Published: Tuesday, September 02, 2008

PRINCE ALBERT -- Officials have big plans for Prince Albert during the next 20 years, including redevelopment of one of the city's poorest neighbourhoods.

A recently completed city plan outlines a number of infrastructure projects aimed at making Prince Albert an economic sensation within Saskatchewan. Plan Prince Albert sets out future direction of the city's residential, commercial and industrial areas, along with opportunities in areas such as health, education, transportation, recreation and housing.

"To facilitate long-term planning, the City has designated enough residential, commercial and industrial land to accommodate projected development in each sector for the next 25 years," the 200-plus page planning document states.

"In 20 years Prince Albert will be . . . a regional hub of Saskatchewan known for its innovation and diverse employment, retail and service opportunities."

Plan Prince Albert has been in the works since 2005. An updated community plan is required by law. The last community plan in Prince Albert dates back to 1987.

Among the plan's priorities are redevelopment of the city's West Flat area, a mainly low-income neighbourhood featuring a number of unpaved roads, unkempt homes and only a handful of convenience stores and gas stations. The area has long been pegged locally as one of the worst in the city for crime, drug and alcohol abuse and violence.

The West Flat area was listed as a priority for redevelopment during public consultation meetings, according to the document. The report recommends making the West Flat one of the city's development "hubs," with updated infrastructure and servicing, which would also provide incentives for private funding.

The West Flat is an important part of the city's growth, the plan adds, as it contains the largest population of all other neighbourhoods and has a high number of children and youth.

"What happens in the West Flat will affect the future of Prince Albert," the report adds.

Dawn Robins, executive director of the West Flat Citizens' Group, said the area has long been neglected by city administration. While the current city council seems supportive of growth in the area, past leaders haven't made it a priority, she said.

And with little pride coming from civic leaders, it's tough to generate pride among residents.

"You lead by example," Robins added.

The area is desperately in need of more affordable housing and transportation. Access to medical services and grocery stores is also an issue.

Still, there has been some change, Robins noted. Residents who previously put up with poor living conditions now have better housing thanks to increased bylaw enforcement of rental properties. And while youth continue to succumb to the influence of gangs, drugs, violence and suicide, Robins said it won't hurt to try revamping the neighbourhood.

"I hope they start here so we can be part of the change," she said.

Mayor Jim Scarrow said the West Flat has always been an economically challenged area. He said the city is addressing transportation, health and food security issues, but noted that much-needed services such as grocery stores and doctor's offices will only thrive if they are supported by local residents.

He said the West Flat is in transition, although there still are areas you "wouldn't take tourists to."

"At the heart of it all . . . you'll see a community with still lots of community pride," Scarrow said.

"Luckily, it didn't bottom out."

The West Flat is also benefiting from a plan to build a multimillion-dollar soccer centre in the area, as well as some 7,700 future residential homes.

"It's the next big area," Scarrow added.

The West Flat will be one of the first to undergo a focused neighbourhood and community review, said Joan Corneil, the city's director of economic development and planning. The city's economic growth has already led to the renovation of a number of dilapidated homes.

Lyn Brown, executive director of the Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is happy to see the city set out future goals. However, she said the plan doesn't go far enough and needs more detailed information about how and when each goal will be met.

"We believe there needs to be more work and a clear action strategy," Brown said.

"It needs to be more measurable and more clear."

Brown said the chamber will continue to talk with the city during the next few weeks to follow up on more details of the plan. She said she wants to see it put into action.

"I certainly don't want to see it sitting on a shelf somewhere," she added.

The plan is set to come to Prince Albert city council on Sept. 8 for a public hearing.

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2008

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