The 80 Storey Tower: Excellent Proposal, Flawed Process

Over the last three and a half years, I have supported a number of new towers across the city (ex: the CNIB building on Jasper Ave, the MacLaren on 124th Street, the Healy Ford project by MacEwan, the development in Windsor Park and many others). There have also been three tower proposals I did not support: The Mezzo on Whyte Ave, Southpark on Whyte Ave and The Emerald on Jasper Ave. I was not able to support The Emerald as I felt the tower podium lacked many basic features we would expect in a modern tower design. With regards to The Mezzo, you can read my thoughts on why I did not support it in this post from April 2016. My reasons for not supporting Southpark are very similar to the reasons listed in The Mezzo post. As mentioned in the April 2016 post, while I am a strong supporter of the need to increase density throughout Edmonton, I believe it is important to not simply support any proposal that increases density. After a two day long Public Hearing, I chose not to support the rezoning application for the 80 storey tower because I do not believe we completed due process.

 

This Public Hearing had many speakers from the area who provided excellent submissions about their concerns for this proposal. The concerns ranged from not staying true to the Quarters Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP), the loss of the River Valley view from Jasper Avenue, the precedent of selling River Valley land, the height of the building and many other topics. While I appreciated those perspectives, I did not have the same concerns. I rarely like to stray from a recent ARP, but when a unique proposal comes along, it is worth giving it serious consideration. When I read through the report (Items 3.1-3.6) I was impressed by the attention to detail in the building design and features. From the podium that will allow people to see the River Valley through it, to the way the building has three different but complementary designs as it moves up, this will likely be considered one of Edmonton’s finest buildings. The architecture of a building does not make it a catalyst but the amount of people living in it will drive development around it as those who live there will need places to purchase groceries, connect with friends and a number of other amenities. I believe this new demand for amenities and services will drive additional development in the Quarters and help accelerate a very good ARP.

 

Although I truly believe this development will be a benefit to the community, I think we failed when it comes to providing the public with the necessary information to help inform their feedback at or before the Public Hearing. To be clear, the legally required public engagement did take place and in fact, the notification range was expanded from the standard 60m to 240m. My primary concern relates to the part of the Bylaw where it states that there will be a ‘publicly accessible private park’ and the guarantees we have around how that park will be operated. As part of the land sale agreement, a public access easement will be finalized to ensure the public can enjoy the park before the development begins. Once the development is complete, that initial public access easement expires and a new public access easement will be developed.

 

An initial agreement has been drafted that is not yet public and therefore residents were not able to provide their feedback on what is a critical part of this proposal. I have little doubt that the applicant and the City will not have an agreement to ensure this publicly accessible private park is operated like every public park in the city but nevertheless, being able to see what is contained in that agreement should be a minimum expectation as part of the Public Hearing process. The residents who live in the community would be able to identify any gaps in the operations of this publicly accessible private park that the City and applicant may have missed. Thankfully a subsequent motion was passed that guarantees the public can weigh in before the agreement is finalized but that should have happened during the Public Hearing.

 

Two weeks ago Council made a major decision regarding our drainage assets that had a wide range of views. Prior to making that decision, a Letter of Intent was drafted so that all Edmontonians could review the specifics of the proposed transfer and provide feedback. Although not every person agreed with the final decision, the process allowed for thoughtful submissions that generated additional positive amendments to the final motion. The fact that this Public Hearing did not have an equivalent process that allowed for submissions on the agreement of how the park would be operated is frustrating. It is particularly frustrating because the process of allowing the public a chance to view the initial public access easement documents and any non-private details from the land sale did not have to be a long process. In 4 and ½ weeks we could have held another Public Hearing and allowed people the opportunity to offer feedback on the operations of the park. That minor delay might not have addressed all of the concerns around public engagement for this proposal but it would have resolved the primary public engagement concern raised by speakers at the meeting.

 

In my closing comments I said, “Painfully, I can’t support this because I don’t think we did due process.” I wanted to support this because there are many positives in the proposal. Even though I support most of what was in the application and I believe we need to increase density throughout most Edmonton communities, when we do not allow the public the necessary information to provide thoughtful feedback, we damage our relationship with Edmontonians and risk missing out on quality engagement that enhances future applications and policy because people will not believe their comments will have any impact. As we prepare to roll out the new Public Engagement Policy over the next two months, I hope we learn from this example to ensure that we deliver on the commitments made in that document.

4 Comments

  1. Timothy Anderson on April 27, 2017 at 1:34 am

    After the hundreds of hours community members each volunteered to help make the Boyle Renaissance and Quarters plans solid, it is disheartening to have the work disrespected by city admin and elected councillors. The characterisation of Boyle Street by some of those councillors was a revelation.
    Scott McKeen’s concern about the effect on community engagement, a growing cynicism toward the city admin, needs to be taken to heart. When the administration has looked for benefits but not studied the research on similar projects elsewhere, not looked at the effects on the ARPs, it’s clear they had made up their minds and didn’t want to hear anything else. In presenting only one side to councillors, they failed to provide councillors with the information they needed to make a sound decision.
    The sometimes contradictory scenarios put forward by the proponent didn’t help. The podium will be clear so you can see through it – except it will have retail or a restaurant… The park will operate like other city parks (but what other city parks have retail terraces?). There will be a pedestrian bridge (at the open house) …oh, no, we won’t build a bridge (at the hearing). And neither the city nor Alldritt attending the packed meeting sponsored by BSCL April 8 at the Boyle Street Plaza.

  2. Maurice Fritze on April 27, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. Please continue with your pursuit of the proper process, especially about consultation. I think Edmonton wins for both of these points. We get the building and we’ll get the correct process steps because of your diligence.

    I look forward to Edmonton being a player, with a magnificent downtown, replete with people, architecture, safety and security on streets, and a revitalized sense of pride.

  3. Ken Cantor on April 27, 2017 at 4:41 pm

    Andrew,

    While I was present to hear your comments and appreciate your posting your thoughts, I still must take some issue with your conclusion and your decision. It would be one thing if you wanted to support this but had to take issue with a process selected by the proponent. But that’s not what happened…

    The proponent spent years and millions of dollars complying with a process that was, as you noted, in some cases exceeded but in every case met and that process was predetermined by the Province of Alberta and the City of Edmonton. The process was yours as the approving authority, not the proponent’s, prior to his application being submitted.

    If some projects can be approved after following your process and others can be turned down after following your process not on their merits but on your arbitrary assessment as to whether your process was adequate or not, then you will have failed everyone who relied on your process whether or not their projects were approved or turned down.

    I also fear that the Public Engagement Policy presently being rolled out may alleviate your concerns in regard to larger projects – justified or not – but that it may well impose additional requirements and time frames on smaller projects that will either fail as a result of the added impositions or simply not even be brought forward in the first place as a result of those added impositions irrespective of the merits of the project.

    Regards, Ken

    • Andrew Knack on April 30, 2017 at 12:27 pm

      Thanks for the comment Ken. I agree that this is not really on the proponent and more on the City (including me). The difference between this rezoning and almost every other DC2 proposal is the fact that there was a land sale that has elements that impact what is in the zoning.

      Because this is a rare occurrence, having a different expectation of the rezoning process does not seem unreasonable especially when the suggestion was made that items not covered in the land sale could be addressed in the zoning. Therefore I do believe we failed the general public who did rely on the process.

      I don’t share the same concern that the new Public Engagement Policy will cause delays. The vast majority of proposals that have quality engagement up front will save time in the long run. Builders who take the time to engage neighbours before building (even something that complies with the Zoning Bylaw) often tell me that they save far more time overall even though they spend a bit more time at the beginning. As an example, I don’t think (nor would I agree with) a requirement for a public meeting when someone is rezoning a RF1 site on an Arterial road to RF3 but when you are looking to deviate substantially from a plan or the infill guidelines, good engagement can make a huge difference in the process. Thanks again for the comment.

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