The process so far has focused on assessing who is living and working downtown, and who may want to in the future, as well as future plans for sites like the old hospital, the Old Fort Hotel, and across from the Quality Inn Northern Grand. Joaquin Karakas of consulting firm Golder Associates says a key theme that has emerged so far is the desire to “capture” people coming to work in Fort St. John that will build lives here, and not stay temporarily.
“A key cornerstone of that, of course, is having a highly livable, high amenity community, the centre point of which is the downtown.”
As for his suggestions, Karakas admits mixed use development can be challenging financially, and create issues for parking, but he showed some smaller, more “modest” examples that could achieve what the city is looking for.
“They also allow for accommodation of parking without the use of underground parking, which we know is prohibitively expensive, so some of our early design studies focused on three to four story mixed use buildings.”
The Old Fort Hotel site was singled out as a prime location for mixed use like that.
In order to get more foot traffic, the “boulevard treatment” is being considered essential, especially at the corner of 100th and 100th. That would mean reducing driving lanes to one in each direction, with the addition of left turn lanes, which would be intended to reduce vehicle traffic in that area.
“This is one of several options we developed, and this one kid of seemed to present a balance of the different options, but there are some technical hurdles that would need to be addressed as well,” argues Karakas.
Those include where the reduced lane travel would start, snow removal, and the possibility of right turn lanes, as well as where the traffic flow would spread to. The idea of one-way traffic has also been looked at.
As for the issue of snow removal, Karakas points to last winter when one lane was used for temporary snow storage, which he says seemed successful. However, Mayor Lori Ackerman expressed concern with heavy snowfall winters, and the height the medians can reach.
“Because it piles up so much, it does start blocking the view across to the other side of the street or avenue that you’d be going down,” she points out.
Council received the report, admitting it needs some “tweaking” as Councillor Dan Davies said, and expressed interest in having subsequent studies being done by Urban Systems be integrated into it. The next step is for the consultants to complete the assessment of infrastructure and transportation, before undertaking a community engagement process. That will all lead to a downtown action plan that will be adopted as part of the City’s Official Community Plan.
“What we don’t want is for this plan, at the end of the day when it’s done, to sit on the shelf, and that’s why it’ll have an emphasis on action,” stresses Karakas.