Upcoming hearing: Council Chamber, 2nd floor, City Hall
Tuesday, Dec 6, 1:30–9:30 pm
Concerned Belgravians are urged to attend in person to show support for neighbours fighting to reduce the size of the development – two 7-storey buildings, each with 71 units.
The proposed Metro 78 development (to be built at the 78 Ave cul-de-sac) will be discussed again at the City Council public hearing on Tuesday, December 6 (City Council Public Hearing – December 06, 2022 (escribemeetings.com).
Update: Many more mid-rise buildings coming to Belgravia
Edmonton’s population is projected to grow to 2 million people by 2060. The City of Edmonton has set a goal to have 60% of future population growth occur within the Anthony Henday ring road. This policy of increased population density is already affecting Belgravia and McKernan. Most notably, these neighbourhoods will see numerous apartment buildings of 6 to 8 stories built along the south side of University Ave and both sides of 114th St.
The Edmonton City Plan, adopted by City Council in 2020, describes how Edmonton will manage its substantial population growth while limiting urban sprawl, reducing reliance on cars, and providing sufficient affordable housing. Most Belgravians would probably support these goals and as such would agree our neighbourhood must do its part to achieve greater population density. The question asked by the BCL board and many residents already affected by new buildings is ‘how much density is enough?’
Belgravians thought we had an answer to this question when City Council approved the McKernan-Belgravia LRT Station Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP) in 2013. The ARP was the product of years of extensive community consultation and described a vision for development in the 2 neighbourhoods for the next 25 years. The Plan states that buildings along 114th St from University Ave to 71st Ave, on both sides of the LRT tracks, will be limited to 4 stories. (Six storey buildings are permitted on University Ave between 115th St and 113th St.) The ARP has numerous photos and illustrations of low-rise apartment buildings and stacked row houses that would replace older single-family houses along the tracks. To the dismay of many Belgravians, we now know that those 3- and 4-story residences are unlikely to be built. Instead, mid-rise buildings of 6 to 8 stories will be built. How and why did this change happen? The story of the Metro 78 development tells the tale.
Metro 78 is a proposed development at the cul-de-sac where 78th Ave meets the LRT tracks. It calls for 4 houses to be demolished and replaced with two 7-storey apartment buildings with a total of 142 units. This far exceeds the height and density described in the ARP. Many neighbours in the immediate vicinity (working under the banner of the BelMac Neighbours Group) have fought for 3 years to scale back the development, spending countless hours working with the developer, City staff and councillors.
At a public hearing in September of this year, representatives of the BelMac group and the BCL argued forcefully that Council should respect the ARP. They emphasized that the ARP was developed at a substantial cost and with extensive input from residents, has already been successful in increasing density in the area, and is less than 40% through its 25-year lifespan. It was to no avail – Council chose not to request a review of the buildings’ height. In a minor victory, Council did vote to ask the City administration to review the waste management pickup route and the extent of impingement upon the green space between Metro 78 and the LRT tracks.
Council’s presumed rationale for supporting the proposed 7-storey height of Metro 78 is that higher density is essential in order to meet the target of 60% of population growth within Anthony Henday Drive. Density targets such as those in the McKernan-Belgravia ARP, developed less than 10 years ago, are no longer sufficient. Furthermore, because so much of the land along the tracks in Belgravia and McKernan is close to an LRT station, Council believes that this area can support higher density with a proportionately smaller increase in vehicular traffic.
Council’s decision to amend the ARP to allow Metro 78 has huge implications for future development along the LRT tracks in Belgravia and McKernan. It is now highly likely that all the houses adjacent to the tracks will be replaced with buildings of 6 to 8 stories, rather than the 4-storey buildings specified in the ARP. Council will either repeatedly amend the ARP for each development, or it will declare (as Councillor Ashley Salvador has already proposed) that the City Plan (which allows midrise buildings along “secondary corridors” such as 114th St) will take precedence over all ARPs in Edmonton.
Upsides to density
Belgravians may experience some positive changes as density increases. Many Belgravians would like to have more retail and service businesses located within walking distance. There are few such businesses in McKernan and Belgravia, in part because there are not enough potential customers in the immediate area. More businesses may choose to locate here as hundreds of new residential units are built, although on the west side of the LRT tracks the difficulty of vehicular access may continue to be a deterrent. In addition, if sufficient family-friendly apartment units are built and families with young children occupy these units, there should continue to be enough students to keep Belgravia School in operation. Finally, all Edmontonians will benefit from limitations to Edmonton’s urban sprawl and a reduction in dependence on cars.
What’s a community league to do?
In August, the BCL board voted to submit a letter to the Mayor and Council urging them uphold the ARP and reject Metro 78. The board reached this decision by considering the overwhelming opposition to Metro 78 in surveys conducted by the City and by the BCL itself. Belgravians believe that we did our part to support densification by accepting the reasonable density increase described in the ARP. We thought we had a deal with the City. Evidently we did not.
It appears that the battle to uphold the height limits in the ARP has been fought and lost, but the BCL board will continue to defend the interests of our community. We will work with developers, the City, and other community leagues to manage the impact of multiple new mid-rise buildings. We will fight for adherence to proper construction zone protocols; for protection of green areas; for safe sidewalks, roads and alleys in the face of increased traffic by construction vehicles, garbage trucks, delivery trucks, and cars; and for higher numbers of family-friendly units of 2 and 3 bedrooms in the new buildings.
The BCL board welcomes your comments and suggestions for future action. I look forward to hearing from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Cohen, BCL president
BELMAC NEIGHBOURS GROUP STATEMENT
Over the last 3 years, a group of neighbours who live near the proposed Metro 78 development have worked with the McKernan and Belgravia Community Leagues, City administration, and the developer to find solutions that work for all of us. As part of this effort, 16 neighbours presented concerns about the proposal at the City Council hearing on September 13. In the end, Council voted to return the proposal to city administration to review safety concerns and the reduction in the green space beside the LRT tracks but felt the 7-storey height was reasonable for this location.
We were disheartened with this meeting. It was not a forum that enabled a comprehensive and thought-ful discussion of whether Metro 78 fits within the framework of existing guidelines. In talking with people from many other communities, we have realized our situation is a symptom of a much wider city issue. Communities are at a significant disadvantage to address concerns given their limited resources, time and expertise. Further, the City of Edmonton, unlike some other Canadian cities, does not increase transparency and trust by having a lobbyist registry, mandatory reporting of lobbyist activities, and post-employment prohibition for former city public office holders.
Metro78 will be discussed again at Council on December 6. Neighbours will again advocate strongly for community concerns.
- attending the hearing on December 6 (City Council Public Hearing – December 06, 2022 (escribemeetings.com)
- providing support by writing a letter to Council
- following us on Twitter to stay informed (@belmacgroup)
- contacting us or the community leagues if you have any questions: email@example.com
Roni Kraut, Ariane Fielding & Jeff Bisanz (BelMac Neighbours Group)