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St. Albert business leaving the city after 15-year search for property

Rockland Landscaping will open locations in Sturgeon County, Edmonton

After more than 15 years spent searching for a permanent home in St. Albert, local business Rockland Landscaping will move to Sturgeon County next year.

Owners Mandee and Gary Takhar said the decision to move Rockland outside city limits didn’t come easily. In fact, it wasn’t much of a decision at all. They said their hands were forced by the lack of suitable land in St. Albert, even though the couple made many attempts to find a spot.

“St. Albert’s always been where we want to be,” Gary Takhar said. “I grew up here … Our kids go to school here and play hockey here, and St. Albert has supported Rockland this whole time.”

Although they are happy to have found two permanent spots for Rockland, one in Sturgeon County and another Edmonton location near St. Albert that will open in July, the couple has had concerns their landscaping supply business would be uprooted since 2008, when they started looking for suitable land.

Rockland opened in 2004 on a leased parcel of land on the north side of Villeneuve Road. However, because the business’s current location is zoned urban reserve, the couple knew from day one a developer could swoop in and start building. And, for the past decade, the Jensen Lakes development has been inching closer and closer to Rockland. Today the business and the housing development are next-door neighbours. Although developer Melcor has been supportive of Rockland — even offering them a temporary plot of land, which the Takhars said the city later denied — eventually, the Jensen lakes development will continue to grow westward.

Knowing the business could at any moment be forced to move tonnes of mulch, soil, decorative rocks and boulders, and not knowing where all that material will go, has weighed on the Takhars.

“That's what makes you get up and fight every day for the business,” Mandee Takhar said. “You just don't know what tomorrow could bring.”

But with every attempt to fight for a place in the city, the couple hit roadblocks.

Twice they tried to find a place in Campbell Business Park, but outdoor storage, something the business requires for its landscaping materials, wasn’t allowed on the area’s parcels.

“Every year, we’ve reached out to the city’s economic development manager and asked, 'What's on the horizon? What can we look forward to?'” Mandee Takhar said. “The conversations are kind of feel-good, like things are coming, but it has never resulted in anything.”

At one point, the city suggested moving to the outskirts of town. The Takhars found a farmer’s field where they could lease a space. However, they would have to do significant and expensive landscaping and construction work for what would ultimately be another temporary location.

In 2021, the couple bought a 10-acre parcel of land in Jensen Lakes across from Costco on the west side of St. Albert Trail. They were confident that the space, zoned as an urban reserve like their current property, would be suitable for Rockland.

But the city later denied their application for a development permit. In 2022, the city extended the Jensen Lakes Area Structure Plan to cover the Takhars’ newly-purchased land. The plan envisions a higher-density neighbourhood with a combination of indoor commercial, mixed-use and parks — an urban-style development where Rockland didn’t fit.

A document from the city’s subdivision development appeal board states that the development also ran afoul of the city’s Municipal Development Plan, and the city felt the proposal would not be accepted by the overarching Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board growth plan.

“It is what it is, and we always think there's a silver lining to everything,” Mandee Takhar said. “It wasn't the ideal decision at that point.”

Limited options for St. Albert businesses

Real estate agent Matthew Best has been working with the Takhars since 2014 to help them find land in St. Albert.

One issue that made the couple’s search especially challenging is the fact they were looking for land that didn’t have a structure built on it, Best said. Most of Rockland’s materials are stored outside.

“I've worked with clients who have had challenges looking for an appropriate location. Has it taken 10 years? No,” Best said.

“St. Albert has a finite amount of space that's ready for development with the appropriate zoning. If you're a business in St. Albert, and you want to remain in St. Albert, then your options are limited.”

Best said he has worked with several businesses that would like to move to St. Albert but couldn’t find the right space in the city.

“St. Albert has always had low inventory, so it's challenging for businesses to find new locations or to start a new business,” he said. “If you have a business that has become a staple of your community, it really makes sense to do everything you can to accommodate them, to help them grow, because they're helping your community grow.”

St. Albert reviewing land use bylaw

Kristina Peter, acting director of planning and development, said in an email it is challenging for some industrial uses to be located near residential because “noise, smell, hours of operation, traffic” and other factors must be weighed when “deciding what is a complementing activity.”

“There are currently limited areas within the city of St. Albert where undeveloped land is set aside for industrial activity, as the city is currently experiencing a limited supply of serviced industrial land,” she said.

Development applications must complement both existing and planned developments, she said.

“It is important to note that the city’s statutory plans (municipal development plan, area structure plans) and regulatory plans (land use bylaw) for land use and development are living documents and are subject to change due to applications from the public, landowners, developers, and the city — and council approval,” she said.

The city will work with businesses to help them find suitable land, but sometimes shortages and mismatches with the specific requirements of a business and what is available on the market are unavoidable.

“The city is undertaking a land use bylaw review to determine if the city’s regulations reflect the needs of existing and future residents, businesses and land developers,” Peter said.

It has also “prioritized increasing industrial land supply” in its municipal development plan and the St. Albert West Area Structure Plan. The city made the servicing of Lakeview Business District a top priority for 2024.

The Takhars said that they came to the city with proposals to make their business visually pleasing to passers-by, and that issues with noise, smell or hours of operation had never been an issue with their current residential neighbours.

They want their customers in St. Albert to know they did everything they could to stay in the city limits.

“Can we essentially call ourselves a St. Albert-based business? No,” Gary Takhar said. Even though the new locations will still be very close to the city, and still serve St. Albert customers, the couple are disappointed Rockland will technically be outside of the city's borders.

After 20 years in the community, they have grown attached to the St. Albert address. They feel fortunate to still be at St. Albert’s doorstep. Sturgeon County has been welcoming to Rockland, Mandee Takhar said.

“We'll still support this community,” Mandee Takhar said. “They have supported us … We're excited to be somewhere that we're permanent. It's been a long time coming for us.”

Rockland will open a new Edmonton location at 13615 184 Street in July. They will move their current St. Albert location to 54408 Range Road 260 in the ProNorth Industrial Park sometime next year.

About the Author: Riley Tjosvold

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