Home » Archives for October 2012

Month: October 2012

Of Infill and Absolutes

This afternoon at a public hearing, City Council referred a bylaw which would have made a number of changes to the Zoning Bylaw and Mature Neighbourhood Overlay, back to administration and a January 28th Executive Committee meeting. You can grab some analysis on it here.

Got home and and felt inspired to hammer out some thoughts on infill development, absolutes, the planning process in our city’s mature communities, and perceptions of it.

___________

Second only perhaps to Cell Towers, few discussions in the realm of civic politics can draw out absolutes and straw man arguments like infill development & redevelopment. It easily becomes a realm where wanting a transition between higher-densities and existing housing stock can easily, and it does, become rebutted with generalized statements about communities opposing redevelopment.

Take for instance the proposed large site rezoning proposed for the Malmo Plains community, recently highlighted by the Edmonton Journal. City Administration took the rare step of recommending that Council refuse the application on the basis that the proposed tower would be an unacceptable intrusion on the surrounding homes, “without being sensitive to any form of transitional housing densities between this use and the existing developments”.

The site is heading back to Council’s agenda later this year with an application for a new Direct Control zone and a doubling of the proposed densities. The proposed transition in the new application is in regards to townhomes, 3 1/2 storeys in height. There Is a request by the community to lower their height by a storey to better integrate with the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay and the surrounding homes, an attempt to cease development. No, it appears to be a reasonable compromise by a community that accepts higher densities and sees the opportunities for it, but desires solid planning.

This morning City Council voted to refer a series of changes to the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay and the RF1-RF5 residential zones back to city administration and a January 28th executive committee meeting. A desire by Councillor Sloan to hear from the 13+ registered speakers before sending the bylaw away was denied.

Were the 13 community representatives in attendance opposed to redevelopment in their neighbourhoods? Of course not. We choose to call these communities home, and for those taking the time out of their day to appear at city hall, the motivation is very clearly not to stop development or freeze investment in their neighbourhoods.

In fact, I look to my own motivations and combined with what I see from other passionate community advocates is a strong desire to invest in our communities. As volunteers our investment is in sweat as we look to revitalize amenities which allow us to live locally without being dependant on the use of a vehicle, and to preserve our community schools. A symbiotic relationship which requires new housing stock for seniors in need of more supportive housing options, and young families looking for a place to call home.

Little is accomplished by referring to a desire for consultation or debate as opposition to development. Nor is much done by foregoing a detailed planning process for a tunnel vision on units built.

From the proposed amendments on today’s Council agenda, is it good planning, for example, to forgo the character of the block to allow new home setbacks which could well result in reduced sight-lines which hinder the good planning that comes from crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED). Are some of the proposed small lot regulations going to provide the homes/amenity spaces desired by young families looking to live in the urban core?

These are the detailed discussions to have going forward. It’s not resistance to redevelopment, it’s a desire to see planning which will lead to desirable infill development, and multiple units which can attract a market which right now is finding its housing stock in the suburbs. Fighting sprawl and the continual development of new neighbourhoods to the outskirts of the city, making more efficient use of existing infrastructure, and encouraging reinvestment in mature neighbourhoods requires buy-in from all sides; communities, builders and buyers. The time spent on good planning, and the political will to balance all sides can be time consuming, but it shouldn’t be played down or disregarded as a nuisance. There are productive discussions to be had which can well lead to great long-term gains.

I hope the coming discussions on these, the proposed MNO and zoning changes, serve to prove that. But it won’t happen if those, with whom decision making power resides, treat this process and the coming discussion as a check mark on a list of things to do on the way to executive committee and eventual approval.

On the way to the ballot box

If you’re reading this you’re probably either someone with an interest in local politics and civic involvement, or you sat down at a computer with the page open, or something. Anyway, if you are the former, then you’re likely a member of the minority of Edmontonians who vote in our civic elections and take an interest in civic policy and governance. This, the level of government closest to us. With which we interact every day of ours lives, and which is free from party politics, party leaders, whipped votes, and the lure of cabinet seats drawing the attention of individual elected members.

Members of Council are individuals whom are free to vote and influence the city as they see fit. And if they’re open, accessible, attentive and eager to seek input, there’s a large base of vibrant, intelligent community advocates and stakeholders with the local knowledge to positively analyse, and help build the policies and direction that are going to lead to a more vibrant city and a strong future vision.

“Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct”.

The quote may or may not have come from Thomas Jefferson, but regardless, it’s worth considering.

We’re now a year away from the 2013 civic election. With this election likely to see more vacating seats and new faces than the last, as someone whose volunteer interests revolve almost entirely around civic decision making, I’ve been giving thought to the sorts of candidates I’d like to not only see come forward, but be encouraged and supported to do so. Bear with me for a bit of rhetoric and perhaps some ranting, but hey, it wouldn’t be politics with them.

I’ve no interest in voting for someone who wants a career from elected office. I want my vote to help elect an advocate, a public servant with ideas and vision, who also knows when it’s time to go. I don’t want my vote going to a candidate who looks and speaks to the world through a lens of “will this get me elected? Will this build name recognition?”, an ‘all things to all people’ approach. I want to see candidates who are open to input and debate, but who, at the same time have opinions of their own, a determined drive, vision, and a clear sense of what they believe is right and wrong. I want to see candidates who have been active in their communities, in their civic circles, not because they see it as a resume or name-building exercise, but because of a desire to help and a clear vision they’ve tried to see implemented using the resources and channels available to them. Nor do I wish to support someone inexperienced with civic policy and City Council. As electors, we’re best served by an individual who’s able to jump in, from the very start and that first meeting and public hearing. A term goes quickly and a Councillor’s attention is drawn from many directions. The more experience they’ve gained before being seeking office, can only serve to lessen their learning curve and help them to tackle issues effectively from the outset.

This is where our responsibility as voters, and as people who care about our city comes into play. Over the next 12 months we’ll no doubt have many discussions about the election, about policy, about issues and talking points. But dialog aside, along with telling everyone who will listen to us to get out and vote next fall, we need to be recruiters for our city. To go out and recognize the people who clearly care for Edmonton, for their businesses, neighbourhoods and communities. Folks who may not even have any political ambition in their veins, and encourage them to step forward to serve our city. To put their names and ideas out there for the voter’s consideration. Let’s not wait and see what our choices are after nomination day, lets get out there and reach out to the folks who we believe would be strong candidates, strong representatives, and encourage them to put their names forward. Then follow that up by hitting the pavement, hitting the doors, and helping them out along the way.

Planning JP

The process to develop a long awaited Jasper Place area redevelopment plan is finally set to begin. An ARP was identified as a key priority for residents of the Glenwood, Canora, West Jasper Place and Britannia-Youngstown communities during the development of the JP Revitalization Strategy, approved by Council in 2009. After a lobbying effort by community members, and with the budget time support of Councillor Sloan, funding was finally allocated to begin.

Revitalization of Residential Areas
The study area includes areas of older housing, in need of rehabilitation. Many property owners have been reluctant to
undertake home improvements, because of the uncertain future of the area. The Jasper Place neighbourhood is undergoing
renewal, since Council reaffirmed its future in 1980, as a single family area. East Glenwood, however, has not experienced
revitalization, despite its designation as a Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program area in 1983.

Changes in Land Use
The 100 Avenue Corridor was an area in transition when the zoning freeze was imposed. Single family housing was being
replaced with low-rise apartments, and commercial development along Stony Plain Road was spreading south into adjacent
residential areas. The freeze suspended this process, and left a mix of incompatible land uses in some parts of the corridor.
There is a need to establish a clear direction for future land use changes in the area, once the zoning freeze is lifted. The
upgrading of 100 Avenue to an arterial roadway, and its connection from 163 Street to 170 Street and Highway 16, will
increase commercial development pressures in the area.

The above quotes from the 100th Avenue Planning Study, approved by Council in 1986, show the issues affecting the area and the need land-use planning and revitalization in the area are not new.
Jasper Place 2012 Edmonton Census Results
As of the 2012 municipal census, with over 7,500 dwelling units, the JP area is now home to over 16,000 residents, with the largest of the four neighbourhoods, Glenwood, being home to over 5,000.

The growth of the Jasper Place population is also going to be affected by, and will to an extent, eventually reside with Transit Oriented Developments.

The Transit Oriented Development guidelines, approved by Council in February of this year, designated the three future stops along 156st & Stony Plain Road, as “neighbourhood” stations and are currently being used by Council and Administration to evaluate zoning application within 400 metres of each.

200m, 400m, and 800m distances from the proposed LRT stops along 156 Street. The guidelines currently apply within 400m of the station areas.

City of Edmonton – Transit Oriented Development Guidelines

The Stony Plain Road Business Revitalization Zone is active along the commercial strip between communities. Community Leagues exist in all four neighbourhoods, and the Jasper Place Revitalization and the Friends of Jasper Place Society are active across neighbourhood boundaries working towards goals of revitalization and building community pride and involvement in the area.

The process, as outlined by City Administration is aimed towards a completion date in winter of 2013. Planners are currently looking for area residents, interested in joining the project’s “Evidence Team”
Jasper Place ARP Evidence Team TOR
This is a long awaited, long desired step in planning for change & revitalization in a growing area. An area with the potential to be a hub for the west-end and rich in amenities and housing options for a current and growing population. It was great to see residents from the four communties, turn out en masse this past Tuesday to learn more about the project. That level of interest will need to be maintained to ensure the best possible outcome. The four communities are connected, yet unique, and as such, it’s so important that individual contributions from each, be represented from beginning to end.

Anyway, this was just a quick rundown on what’s happened to date. I’ll have further information and commentary on the subject in a week or two after posing some questions to the planners involved. Four more info, you can visit Edmonton.ca/JasperPlaceARP

__

And that’s that..for today anyways.

It’s important, vital, for a municipal council to have a vision for the future of the municipality under their care. It’s also equally important that they don’t take a header off the financial cliff chasing it. Today City Council was the adult in a room, absent Daryl Katz, as it sensibly voted to cease negotiations with the Katz Group.

About this time last year, Council expended a significant amount of political capital agreeing to a generous financial framework which included a Community Revitalization Levy + $80 million from other sources, an ask to the Provincial Gov for $100 million, up to $25 million for a pedway across 104 ave, an estimated $7 million for a community rink, $20 million for a marketing agreement, $20+ million for land purchases, with the City borrowing to construct the arena with the Katz Group making their contribution at $5.5 million per year over 35 years.

Council and the Mayor agreed to this without verifying the financial claims of the Katz Group. Without analysing, or as Seattle is doing, auditing the books of their prospective business partner. Without verifying, themselves or through City Admin, their partner’s financial claims.

A process conducted largely in camera and with private verbal reports, without due diligence providing all the facts and figures to city negotiators and civic decision makers, it’s well open for abuse or manipulation. Which indeed happened with the Katz Group playing down the importance of the tentative financial framework, the agreement reached in New York, while advancing claims of a struggling business model which not only required the naming rights but the entire revenue stream of the facility to be sustainable, while continually refusing to reveal it’s finances to the City; The majority investor in the project. And of course there may have a childish trip to Seattle somewhere in between.

The front door was open, the public, the media, and a Council which has been more than generous in moving this forward was there today waiting. Instead, rather than appear and move the agreement forward, the Katz Group offered a rhetoric filled letter offering no specifics or concessions as it’s response.

 

Motion approved by Council this afternoon.

1. As a result of Mr. Katz letter and unwillingness to have an open discussion with Council and the frustration of the Interim Design Agreement, all negotiations, and ongoing City work related to the October 26, 2011, framework be ceased immediately.

2. That administration provide a report, as soon as possible, to City Council to report on the completion of the cessation of negotiations, and the status of the City’s current, transferable investments in a potential downtown arena project.

3. That Administration provide a report outlining a framework for Council to explore potential avenues to achieve the long term goals of sustainable NHL Hockey in Edmonton.

 

Last year’s financial framework, or for that matter, any further negotiations, and spending on the arena design and process, should never have occurred without verifying the Katz Group’ finances and financial claims. Whether the Oilers are a profitable venture, or a failing business model in need of external and public subsidy to carry on, civic decision makers absolutely should have been provided the information to know one way or the other.

Today’s decision, ceasing further negotiations is the responsible course. Yes, it might well have been avoided with a dose of sunlight and due diligence some time ago and along the way, but Council can’t roll back the clock. It’s something for future Councillors and candidates to learn from. The next step, it’s Katz’, and it starts with transparency on the front steps of City Hall. Anything less is probably just a letter to the editor that’s bad for the blood pressure and Katz’ remaining support on Council.

Transit Bucks

Council set to privatize southeast LRT line – Edmonton Journal

Federal threat forced approval of P3 for LRT, group claims – CBC News

As a community volunteer in the west-end, for several years now, the route for West LRT expansion and it’s engineering and design phases, were and are a big part of my volunteer obligations. The following are some of my thoughts on today’s news cycle and the P3 model chosen to build, operate and maintain the ‘low-floor’ LRT system from the west-end to the south-east.

 _______

So just what are the implications of a P3 agreement that leaves maintenance and operation in private hands for an LRT line that will be retrofitted into and operated within city streets, transecting vehicles, intersections and pedestrians from the far west-end to Millwoods? A decision made without any public discussion, without any dialog between, Councillors, city admin and the public & affected communities; barring anymore investigative reporting we’ll probably just have to wait and see. An unacceptable approach for a project of this scale and impact.

Turning over the handling of maintenance and operations as part of the agreement most definitely should have gone out to the public for consultation. This isn’t, nor should it be some all or nothing proposition between building it anyway, at any cost, or not at all. A multi-billion investment that’s meant to transform land-use and transit modes from one end of the city to the other has to be done right. To do so, the devil is in the details from design to operation.

What does it mean for communities and transit riders, when the system isn’t governed by the City and ETS? Does it mean the possibility of two different fare schedules? Does it mean a lack of coordination between connections with the bus network and high-floor lrt systems? Does it mean potential difficulties in coordinating maintenance, repairs and upgrades between a private operator and ETS and the Transportation Dept? Does it mean reduced or alternate trip frequencies as compared to the public, ETS operated system?

This decision needed public consultation prior to being made. And the public deserved the opportunity, if we didn’t like what we heard, if we felt the Federal Gov was forcing this decision on our Councillors, to push back publicly, call our MP’s out and onto the floor, and let Councillors make a decision with public support behind them. As with many things however, with the bulk of the decision made, any public consultation is likely to be superficial at best, and our CPC MPs (who one increasingly wonders whose interests they represent, us or the PM’s) skirt the issue and fly under the radar.

Council put forward a date and asked for Daryl Katz or a rep from the Katz Group to appear before Council and explain it’s wants and it’s position of funding for the arena project. Perhaps Council should consider doing the same with our local MPs. With more and more of Canada’s population migrating towards urban centres, I certainly wouldn’t mind hearing their thoughts and positions on funding transformative urban infrastructure projects.

 

Closure

Update – November 12th.

It’s been about a month since I first sent this to both Honourable members. I’ve not received any replies.

__

The following is an open letter which I’ve sent to the Hon. Laurie Hawn (M.P. For Edm-Centre) and Hon. Denis Lebel (Minister responsible for Canada Post), in opposition to the closure of the Mayfield Common Post Office location. It’s a central amenity in an area where reinvestment and services accessible by foot and transit are needed and desired. I consider it’s loss to be a blow to the surrounding communities.

______

Hon. Laurie Hawn, M.P. for Edmonton-Centre
Hon. Denis Lebel, Minister responsible for the Canada Post Corporation

October 15th, 2012

Dear Sirs,

The communities of Glenwood, Canora, West Jasper Place and Britannia-Youngstown here in Edmonton’s west-end once comprised the core area of the old Town of Jasper Place. Once a young and growing municipality, the area, through amalgamation, became part of the City of Edmonton. It grew, to a current population of over 16,000, with a lifecycle that’s taken the area to its current state as mature communities looking for revitalization and reinvestment, new housing options and new amenities.

As a long-term member of the community of Glenwood and the Jasper Place area, I’m writing to you today out of concern and opposition to the imminent closure of the Mayfield CRO post office located centrally in the area within Mayfield Common.

Opened just a few years ago, the location, through its helpful staff, has provided a full range of postal services to the 16,000+ residents of the four communities which immediately surround it, and beyond.  Mayfield Common offers residents a centralized location to access, both on foot, by vehicle and through accessible public transit. Companion businesses within the area allow residents to both access the post office and other shopping needs and amenities within the immediate area. Located on Stony Plain Road, the Mayfield CRO is both surrounded by and on a main strip with a growing number of multi-unit residences.

Within the surrounding communities, as of the 2008 census, are over 1,600 residences which do not own a vehicle. As well, as of 2012 civic census, 20% of residences utilize public transit as their primary means of transportation from home to work. Seven percentage points above the city average.

Furthermore, the nearest postal outlet, located within a corner pharmacy at 155 Street and Stony Plain Road, is within a property which has been identified by the City of Edmonton, as one to be acquired and removed in order to accommodate the eventual construction of the City’s West LRT Line.

The importance of local amenities and services, accessible to an area of increasing density and increased demand for walkability and transit access, is obvious. The loss of the Mayfield CRO removes an important local service from some of those who need it the most, while the alternative locations are either distant or fail to offer the same level of services such as P.O. boxes.

As an area resident who makes frequent use of Canada Post’s service, I can’t understate my appreciation for its place in the community. Whether I’m sending mail or packages, arranging a mass mailing for an election campaign, or just buying stamps, the location is local, handy and easy to access, and the experience and help of the staff is most appreciated.

I ask you, I urge you, to help take action to prevent this closure. A single full-service Post Office location may not seem like much on the national scale, but here, at the local level, in an area in need and in want of reinvestment, revitalization and local, walkable, and transit friendly amenities, its presence while not large or flashy, is very much desired, welcomed, and appreciated.

Sincerely,

Jamie Post

Tower Over Me

City council at odds over cell tower bylaw

“We get a lot of push back from communities,” he said. “But I haven’t heard of anyone giving their phones back.” – Stephen Mandel

___

I spent my morning at City Hall for the Exec Committee discussion on cell tower policy, helping to give the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues’ presentation. In that vein and based on some of the comments made by the Mayor and members of Council, I’ve got a bit of a rant to go on:

We all need a roof over our head. And we have policy and bylaws to manage built-form, land-use and public consultation. Wanting these processes to be clear, consitent, and enforced by the powers that be doesn’t make one a hypocrite, or opposed to housing in Edmonton.

We need roads and sidewalks in our communities. And when rebuilding them through neighbourhood renewal, the city has a process to consult with and hold a dialog with the community on the work being undertaken. Wanting that process to exist, and to be a part of it sure doesn’t mean that residents want that work stopped or held up.

We all put trash out, but it’s disposed of properly. Not say, dumped at the end of an alley where if you come out to complain, someone is there to say “Hey, it’s your trash. What are you complaining about?”.

Because you have a cell phone, or a tablet, or an air-card, or plan to use one or more in the future, it doesn’t mean that you’re out of place asking that your municipality have a clear and consistent plan to address land-use & consultation in it’s response to demand for cell tower locations and their integration and design. Even though, yes, the City does yield the final decision in the process to Industry Canada. It’s not “NIMBY” or an attempt to “slow the process” to ask that the most local form of government give this issue that same consideration and attention that it does to other local infrastructure, amenities, and other forms of land-use. That the policies involved be consistent, navigable, and that they don’t provide civic administration with overly broad discretion to alter the process as they see fit.

I hope to see a higher level of debate when this issue returns for a final decision.

/End rant

Of Plans and Planning

The City of Edmonton is currently beginning the process of developing an area redevelopment for the Jasper Place area out here in the west-end. The Jasper Place Revitalization strategy approved by Council a few years back established area planning as a priority for area residents, but getting to this point wasn’t exactly easy. At least for those of us who made the trips to Council to lobby for funding for the project, and who lobbied a Sustainable Development department with a stated limited capacity to develop a small handful of land-use plans per year, and a growing waiting list comprised of mature neighbourhoods and transit oriented development areas.

In Jasper Place, one could take the position that even the ‘plans’ have plans. The Jasper Place Revitalization Strategy, the 100th Avenue Planning Study, The Canora Neighbourhood Improvement Plan, the Britannia-Youngstown Neighbourhood Planning Study, and The Newman’s Resoultion (not really a plan per se, but a resolution put forward by an area Councillor a few decades back that affects landuse in West Jasper Place, so we’ll throw it in as well). As well as an Urban Design Vision for Stony Plain Road. The effectiveness of at least three of these, during their time in effect, is questionable at best and they’ve reached the point where it’s probably in everyone’s best interest to put them in a blue bag on the curb. The Newman’s Resolution, a statement that all new infill in West Jasper Place should be entirely RF1 (single-family) is decades out date with a civic desire to allow appropriate increases in density in mature communities.

As for the JP Revitalization Strategy? It never gained significant traction in the community, becoming something far more heard of, than actually seen. Some of it’s goals were simply never followed up on, such as a plan to redevelop the Butler Park/JP Transit Terminal area into an inviting public square with multi-unit developments surrounding and retail to serve residents and transit riders. Others were impacted by issues such as the on-going debate over the west-lrt alignment, which left uncertainty hanging over all involved. And Like other ‘official’ revitalization efforts, it’s considered a limited time opportunity, as the city eventually shifts resources on to other plans in other communities.

So, what’s a better, more efficient, easier for all involved way to do all this, to address land-use, revitalization, community vitality and engagement? I think the answer, or rather ‘a’ answer can be found in Vancouver and it’s “CityPlan” process.

Below is the Riley Park/South Cambie Community Vision plan.

The plan carries the weight of Council and Administration support and is supported by an independent committee of community members. Unlike a policy document which the majority in a neighbourhood probably don’t even know exists, this can remain fluid and relevant. Crafted with community stakeholders, and supported by the same, it can continually be updated, and overseen by those it affects the most.

Amenities for cyclists and pedestrians in Old Strathcona, addressing a lack of park space in West Jasper Place, preparing for the West LRT in Glenwood, or traffic management, redevelopment pressures, amenities, neighbourhood infrastructure renewal, community revitalization, etc, could all be incorporated. Taking the vision of the community, the needs of the neighbourhood, and giving them the support of civic decision makers, while having implementation monitored at the local level. A comprehensive community plan can incorporate a great deal of policy, and together can achieve a level of community interest. buy in, and sustainability, that where divided they simply do not.

Something comprehensive for a neighbourhood like Vancouver’s “CityPlan”, can also benefit a community by tieing into broader civic policies. For example, by identifying where something like the upcoming Complete Streets guidelines or the Corner Store Revitalization Project could apply within the community, and seeking buy-in from the relevant stakeholders.

As a Community League Civics Director, I know I certainly wouldn’t mind trading some of the continual, individual policy battles for something comprehensive that the community can buy into for the long-haul.