A feeling of disconnect between council and the residents of Sylvan Lake is the reason Matt Prete has announced his candidacy for the mayor’s position this fall.
“The direction council’s taken doesn’t seem to reflect the will of people or the best interests of people of town,” he said last week.
One example of this is the 781-11 intersection. “That’s a pretty blatant disregard for the will of the people. There’s no question people wanted change — but they were talking about lights. There’s no more risk for lights there than at Highway 20. Residents made it pretty clear they were willing to accept the risk,” he said.
Another disconnect is with the marina redevelopment. “They allowed it to become exclusive. Yes, they have to make it available for a public boat launch but there’s no parking, no limit on what they can charge. I expect I wouldn’t be surprised if they charge $100. They’re going to price the general public out of using it. That’s poor planning. How is it we have a lake and no public access to it? If you do manage to get on the lake and get hungry where do you go? There’s nowhere to park a boat and walk into town.
“We’re told a million people come here on vacation yet our downtown is dying. How do those two fit together?”
The Pattern Book, which controls what can be built north of the tracks is a “huge issue for business”, said Prete. “Why would a business spend an extra $200,000 to build north of the tracks when they can go south and not spend it. That’s precisely why businesses are moving out.
“We have to accept that downtown and the lakeshore are not quaint, it’s dilapidated. We’ve got to talk about the reality of it.” He said private business money is needed to change the area and revitalize it, but why would business do that?
“The days of being able to make enough profit for the year in two months over the summer are gone. The price of land, taxation, all these things add up. You just can’t get enough income in two months’ time. We’ve got to figure out a way to make year-round businesses.”
“If we have a healthy business community we’ll have a healthy community,” he stated.
Prete would scrap the Pattern Book and say we want a marine theme. “Let businesses use their imagination. Collectively I think we’ll get something much better than by strict architectural controls.”
Another concern is the high lake level. At a council meeting he attended, he heard a report from Alberta Environment about the lake level. Basically, he said, it’s possible to lower the level but will take a lot of work, a lot of hoops to jump through. “Honestly, I think council lacks leadership, it’s almost like they gave up, thinking it would be too hard, instead of digging in to make it happen.”
Prete has been general manager of Blindman Valley Propane for the past three years and lived in Sylvan Lake for seven years. In the past he spent a few years working for State Farm Insurance and was in the farm equipment business. He grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan.
He said he’s been interested in politics since he was a kid and always felt he would jump in at some time. “I never felt compelled to do so until now.”
A Facebook page will be set up shortly and people are encouraged to learn more about him and contact him with their questions, Prete said.
“My favourite thing is to do questions and answers. I think most people like that too.”
He believes there needs to be a change in how people communicate with council.
Speaking about his involvement with saving trees along the south end of the Pierview subdivision, he said residents “didn’t get information until the very last minute. I think we need more stakeholders advised earlier on in the process about details. How can council make recommendations without talking to the public first? The system seems to be stacked against the residents. It’s almost an us against them attitude.”
If councillors had asked him questions when he made his presentation, he felt they would have gotten a better feel for the residents’ vision and they would have felt more engaged. “That’s the part that bothered me the most. It’s like an arrogance.”
Prete saw something similar at council’s public hearing on the business licensing bylaw and mobile vending. “Nobody (councillors) asked a single question. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t engage the public. There was no engagement at all.”
He added, “without engagement, without talking about it, how do you make an informed decision?”
“My goal is to open up the process, make it more engaging.” He believes council should have the leadership and courage to “go and sit and listen”. Presently, the disconnected council doesn’t represent his interests.
“People will be more engaged” in the election process, Prete believes. “If they have a credible alternative, it will make it more interesting.” He believes he’s that alternative.
The only other candidate to formally announce candidacy for the mayor’s position so far has been councillor Dale Plante.
Elections take place on October 21. Previously councillors and mayors served three year terms but that’s been changed to four year terms with this election.