UnCoordination – Edmonton’s Growth Coordination Strategy

A civic Growth Coordination Strategy, an objective of the Municipal Development Plan is on the agenda today for City Council’s executive committee. For a number of engaged Edmontonians, the draft strategy and admin report released as part of the committee agenda late last week may well be the first opportunity that they’ve had to view it. For other community stakeholders, the strategy didn’t come into view until after leaving a small group of ‘key stakeholders’ and arriving already in a draft form.

The lack of public consultation has already been well criticised. What I’ll suggest here today, is that the document we have here in front of us, falls well short of the goals established for it in the Municipal Development Plan, hands excessive discretion to city administration to carry out its action items, and while it speaks to the necessity of information in the decision-making process, it fails in that regard.

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Section 3.1.1 of the MDP established the policy directions expected in future growth coordination and the integration of higher density land uses with LRT expansion and transit centres. It encourages that a minimum of 25% (another debate right there) of housing-unit growth occur within mature and established communities. It addresses the timing and phasing of new growth in ‘developing and planned neighbourhoods’.

Furthermore, in section 3.6.1.1, the GCS is tasked with providing measures for developing neighbourhoods relating to “livability, current and future public infrastructure investment and long term financial sustainability” in order to “inform Edmonton’s decisions on future residential growth and expansion”.

 

From the MDP

Manage future public obligations and growth opportunities – Approve new growth combined with its accompanying infrastructure obligations when it can be demonstrated that the City can afford it.

3.1.1.6 Develop a growth coordination strategy to address timing and phasing of new residential growth in developing and planned neighbourhoods. The strategy will relate to the City’s strategic goals, current and future public infrastructure investment, long term financial sustainability and the amount, location and pace of population and employment growth; and will establish: Expectations for completing developing neighbourhoods – Expectations for initiating new Neighbourhood Structure Plans

3.1.1.7 The Growth Coordination Strategy will identify infrastructure and service obligations related to developing neighbourhoods and in conjunction with the Integrated Infrastructure Management Plan will outline the City’s strategy for providing this infrastructure and infrastructure required by new growth.

3.1.1.8 Proponents for a new Neighbourhood Structure Plan will seek Council’s authority to prepare the plan. The information supplied by the applicant and administration will allow Council to provide direction and permission in accordance with Council’s Vision.

3.1.1.9 Information that proponents and administration supply will include the existing infrastructure and the funded and unfunded commitment for the sector, the relationship of the sector’s infrastructure and funding to the other sectors in the City, the current population capacity in the sector, the relationship of the proposed plan to transit, the availability and timing of supportive City infrastructure related to the proposed plan’s approval and significant environmental impacts.

3.1.1.10 The Growth Coordination Strategy will address demand for land, housing units, and housing choice at the regional, city-wide and sector level.

 

And From the Administration Report

While referred to as the Growth Coordination Strategy, it essentially is a framework to identify and manage future public obligations and accommodate the growth of new residential communities through the following actions:

• Monitoring infrastructure commitments and growth indicators as specified in The Way We Grow and incorporating growth information into departmental master plans, three and ten year budget planning and long range financial planning.

• Reporting to City Council through annual growth monitoring reports, and at the time Area and Neighbourhood Structure Plans are advanced for Council’s consideration. 

• Coordinating the planning and provision of infrastructure in developing neighbourhoods.

• Communicating and collaborating with private, public and non-profit community builders to meet the physical and social/ recreational needs of new communities.

 

The first sentence from the administrative report to Council, essentially lays out the title of “Growth Coordination Strategy” as a misnomer. Where the MDP implies an active role for this strategy, in addressing housing across the city and region, and in addressing the “timing and phasing of new residential growth in developing and planned neighbourhoods”, the final product forwarded for Council’s consideration, ultimately takes an idle role.

What the strategy, as presented, does not do is prioritize areas for growth or specify directions to ensure that future growth is contiguous. In failing to do so, it loses to opportunity to encourage growth, as close as possible to existing resources, infrastructure and amenities, or to ensure the completion of developing areas prior to new develop leap-frogging past.

The strategy speaks of the need for “comprehensive and timely information”. It also speaks at a high-level about the servicing and amenity needs of new communities. But it falls short of providing detailed financial information regarding the costs and revenues of new outward development and infill redevelopment (in fact, as the strategy has developed, references to established and mature communities have fallen away). What are the costs to the city of servicing and providing for new communities; those that have been completed, and those still in the process of being completed.

The MDP specifies targets for new development, and new housing within the existing urban form. Infill development, the redevelopment of underutilized & vacant sites within established and core areas are unaddressed.

 

Reporting to City Council through growth monitoring reports and neighbourhood and Area Structure Plan applications. In addition to receiving the Annual Growth monitoring Report, Council will receive relevant growth information at the time an area or neighbourhood structure plan is submitted for their approval consideration.

Coordinating planning and provision of infrastructure in developing neighbourhoods. This will be done internally through use of consistent, comprehensive and timely information provided to all business areas of the City. The Growth Coordination committee will allow the opportunity for coordination with external development partners.

Communicating and collaborating with private, public and non-profit community builders to meet the physical and social/recreational needs of new communities. This will be done through a Growth Coordination committee which will provide a forum for ongoing discussion and information sharing of growth information well in advance of plan submissions. A terms of reference will be developed for the Committee as a first step in the implementation of the Growth coordination Strategy.

 

The strategy leans largely on the creation of a “Growth Coordination Committee”. Who will be represented on the committee? Who are its key stakeholders? What are its terms of reference? Are these decisions to be made by Council or left to the discretion of city administration?

This strategy can be a success. It can help prioritize and guide future growth, it can support redevelopment within mature communities, and can actively guide the creation of housing option and density targets across the city. It can be rebuilt, which means it needs far more input and work than can be done within Council Chambers. This document should be sent back, and ‘its redevelopment’ should begin with a strong public involvement plan and a comprehensive group of key stakeholders. Speakers can line up at a Council meeting to speak to this 5 minutes at a time, but a document like this, which has such importance in fulfilling the goals of the MDP, both it and the public deserve much more than that.

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