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It’s not “crap”, it’s just not very good.

molson

I promised myself at one point this past winter, that I’d make the time to head down to the Molson Brewery and spend some time taking pictures of brick, and masonry..and history. Passing by the site today, I see that a dismantling of the Molson sign has begun. It might have started a while back, but I noticed it today. If were moving forward with an unpopular development proposal for the site and expecting media cameramen to make an appearance, I’d probably pick this as a good time to have an iconic feature removed from view.

Folks in Oliver have a great community league. It’s active, it’s engaged, it’s forward thinking, and it’s home to the next generation of volunteers on which the future of the community league system will depend. As a community league civics director, and as a member of the Federation of Community Leagues Planning Committee, I’ve been impressed by how they’ve approached the proposed redevelopment of the Molson Brewery over the past year.

Identifying concerns with the site’s proposed rezoning, it’s amenities, and a lack of residential uses on a downtown property along a major transit corridor; The Oliver League has connected with all the right people. They’ve held community meetings. They’ve developed positive recommendations and have been ready and willing to work with city planners and the property owner to develop something positive for the area, for downtown and for the preservation of it’s history.

And today Council passed a proposed rezoning which pretty much ignores all of that. The kind of decision that ends with volunteers leaving forehead sized dents in the fabric walls outside Council Chambers.

The Mayor and Council that famously promised “no more crap” didn’t exactly pass crap today. They just did what they’ve frequently done over and over again, in simply accepting what was deposited at their door. Councillors are meant to be the keepers and dreamers of a city’s vision, someone else could be the status quo rubber stamp society.

It’s the legal role of the Sustainable Development department to process applications to rezone a property. And herein lies my challenge to the next Council that will take shape at the end of October.

Rebuild the road that leads to you.

It’s the job of planners to prepare zoning applications and bring them to Council. They don’t have to like them, and they don’t have to recommend them, they simply have to prepare them for Council’s consideration. Outside of that, our planning and development process is open to a world of change. We don’t hire individuals trained to simply process applications. We hire educated, professional urban planners. Minds that can interpret and articulate a city vision. That can work with engaged stakeholders and incorporate input from all sources into a recommendation for Council.

Council could have sent today’s rezoning application back to city administration for reconsideration. Or city administration could have gone to Council with an additional alternative proposal, built collaboratively with all interested parties, and with our planners’ own sense and vision of what they want for the core of our city.

Voters will pick new faces for Council in October. Which of those, if any, will take on the role of changing the face our city’s administration. The city has hired some excellent individuals to work in it’s sustainable development department. Encourage them to come to Council with more than cookie-cutter proposals built on narrow vision and input. Developers in Edmonton aren’t known for being particularly experimental or open to taking risks. Don’t be afraid, current and future Councillors, to say ‘no’ once and awhile, and show them that the risk they perceive, might just be a great development that a community wholeheartedly wants.

Edmonton Molson brewery site rezoned amid controversy – Edmonton Journal

Edmonton city councillors approve controversial Oliver plan – Metro Edmonton

Controversial rezoning of Molson brewery site approved by council – CBC News

 

Development Dialog – Summarizing a meeting of minds at a west-end community hall

Earlier this week a group of community and development industry representatives met at the Glenwood Community Hall to discuss proposed amendments to Edmonton’s zoning bylaw and mature neighbourhood overlay.

Some material from the EFCL is available here – below are the presentation materials from a city of Edmonton open house last month, and the complete Council report with mark-ups of all the proposed changes.

I spent a good portion of the evening in what became a very interesting discussion between community and development folks regarding dialog between communities and development proponents, the benefits of proactive consultation, and acknowledging developments which contribute positively to the community through both the quality of the product and up-front discussion.

Below is a summary of the notes which I took throughout. Coming from multiple sides of the development process, I think they speak to the potential for not only positive and enhanced consultation processes, with the potential to alleviate neighbourhood concerns and ultimately create a better housing product in infill situations, but avenues to create neighbourhood plans and architectural/design themes for neighbourhoods.

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Up-front discussion between the community and proponents of a project could help to also facilitate development (addressing concerns about timing) while improving the quality of the project. A positive relationship with a community can reduce time requirements and allow uses to remain as discretionary. “Balance is the key”.

From there the discussion went it the relationship between residents and development proponents. There was a consensus that nobody wants to a product that detracts from the look of the community, that’s constructed without regard to community character or strong design standards, by someone whose interest isn’t in building a community and their reputation as a builder.

There was discussion about design standards and a general theme being established for an area through zoning. As well, it was discussed that there are already some standards in place which development officers could and should be using to encourage duplexes with architectural interest, that don’t simply have a copy/paste mirrored look.

Developers noted that one or more poor quality neighbouring projects can adversely affect one’s strategy in a neighbourhood. As well, that certainty is positive when making an investment – leaving to much poorly defined or up to the discretion of the development officer, increases investment risk.

There was also talk about ways that communities can acknowledge positive developments & consultation practices. Highlighting those that make the effort above those who disregard community concerns or are simply looking to “get in/get out”.

Edmonton Zoning Changes – low-density zones and mature neighbourhoods

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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.

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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.

Next Stop

Edmonton council nixes proposal for 40th Avenue LRT station

““You’ve got this billion-dollar LRT and it’s not relevant to all the neighbourhoods it cuts right through.” – Coun. Iveson

“I’m a bit appalled that we would be looking at $22 million for something that’s only been open a couple of years,” said Coun. Jane Batty, saying she would like to see the train run to all four corners of the city first. “I just think we have other fish we should be frying for LRT lines.”

 

Earlier today, a proposal by Councillor Iveson to add an LRT station at 40th avenue was flattened on the track by the Transportation Committee of City Council.

So much of Edmonton’s future LRT expansion will be retrofitted through existing neighbourhoods, roads and right-of-ways.  It’s in that vein that today’s decision by the committee and the quotes above, I believe merit the attention of Community Leagues, advocates, and the folks who will be looking to make use of light-rail in their communities on day.

A fears years ago, I had the opportunity to chat in depth with a member of a University-area Community League who was actively involved in south-side LRT expansion.  The debate over the West LRT line was in full swing, and having recently taken over a the civics director for a west-end league, I was looking for advice from someone who had looking at the topic as a community advocate for some time. The conversation was focused on one topic, taking a multi-billion dollar transit investement and getting it right for the communities affected.  That the focus for decision makers needed to be on serving the communities expansion transits.  Decisions such as forgoing consideration of additional stops in redeveloping mature neighbourhoods for a tunnel-vision on 20 minute ride-times from the end to downtown, was largely missing the forest for the trees.

We see the contrast today, with the quotes above, between detail and completion.  Between working at the most local of levels to serve communities, and focusing in on the end of the line and ribbon cutting day.

No, not every community can get what it wants, but nor in a changing and growing city, can we really consider a LRT line complete just because it’s moving riders.  A demand for a station, a demand for service, and the consideration of potential ridership and local transit-related redevelopment should carry the same weight whether the line is a few years old, or 30 years-old.  The same goes for mature and inner city communities looking to increase service of proposed and developing LRT lines in their communities.  They shouldn’t be placed in a situation where their desires and concerns are quickly dismissed and/or outweighed by a focus on suburban ride times or focusing on the construction of one LRT at the expense of the functionality of another.  That may help to hurry along the development of future LRT routes, but for an investment of this size, do we want to just build it, or build it darn well for our communities and our city?

 

Area 6

The City has completed a round of public consultation exercises for the Mill Woods to Lewis Estates LRT line, featuring an additional session last night for “Area 6 -149 Street to Lewis Farms Transit Centre”.  A previous go-around had us west-end folks crammed into the Meadowlark Community Hall, seemingly well beyond the hall’s fire capacity.  A second night and larger venues this time around were more than welcome.  Before I forget something, a quick run-through of some of yesterday’s discussions..

Grant MacEwan is on the move, vacating their Jasper Place arts campus in favor of a centralized operation downtown.  The city is negotiating to buy the site, which opens up some interesting opportunities for future use.  Councillor Sloan made the suggestion, of adding public washrooms at a mid-point in the west line.  The city’s potential ownership of the Grant MacEwan site and the rest of the south-east corner at 156st and SPR makes this a logical point in the line, to do so.

The next stop to the south is 95th avenue and 156st.  97th avenue is part of a designated bike trail through the Jasper Place area, and bike lanes are going to be installed along 95th.  As such, we had a good discussion at our table about bike storage facilities, namely something that serves a dual-purpose as a form of public art.

Transit Oriented Development is of course an issue.  The TOD guidelines have been approved, and communities now have a desire to see some specific area planning done around their stations.  Staff were on hand who commented that TOD planning would be done along 156st, and full Area Redevelopment Plans are on the horizon for Glenwood, Canora, West Jasper Place and Britannia-Youngstown, though no time-table was available.

The flow of people and vehicles after construction was discussed.  Along 156st there was a desire to see the installation of signalized pedestrian crossings at several intersections.  For Glenwood, we again recommended moving our neighborhood’s signalized entrance/exit along 156st, from 97th avenue to 98th.  97th becomes a free-way at times, wide and open, allowing for high-speed cut-through traffic in the neighborhood.  98th on the other hand dead-ends, inhibiting such behaviour.  For the 170st overpass, there was a desire to see a pedestrian bridge incorporated in the design.

We all had a strong desire not to see transit stops and public realm investment becoming generic installations.  Rather they should be tailored to the history, character, and design of their host communities, for example, an olde town feel in older areas such as Glenora and JPlace.

Finally, the biggie, the west’s status, as staging plans have construction of line starting in Mill Woods and ending eventually in the west..  With several community league reps at the table, it’s probably no surprise that discussion turned towards advocacy.  Specifically what communities and stakeholders can do along the lines of helping to secure funding from higher levels of government, and to encourage desired modifications to the final design.  There’s strength in numbers and as we head back to report in to our individual league’s, we’ll see what grows from this spark.

 

 

Neighborhood Renewal

During this year’s election campaign, I mentioned the current state of the community of Canora. A partner in the Jasper Place Revitalization, Canora is home to 3,300+ residents,with a future that affects the 15,000 who who reside in the JP area. The Jasper Place Revitalization is important to the whole, the successful conclusion of which requires addressing the individual needs of each community.  Glenwood, Canora, West JP, and Britannia-Youngstown share a need for long-term land-use planning which incorporates vision over short-term whims in order to provide certainty for the future.  An issue identified over 20 years ago in the 100th avenue land-use study.  In Canora in particular, the glut of RF2 zoning across the entire community is a concern which must be addressed.

Revitalization requires building pride in a community, and encouraging investment.  However the dire state of Canora’s infrastructure is anything but a selling point.  This past week, city administration reported to Council’s Transportation and Public Works committee on the current priorities for neighborhood infrastructure renewal.  The report and video of the committee meeting are available below, featuring a presentation to Council by a concerned community resident.  It’s disappointing to see that as current priorities stand, Canora will not see re-construction of it’s infrastructure until after the conclusion of the JPR in 2014.

Read more

District E

It was a great turnout and a full agenda at the EFCL’s regular general meeting on Monday.  You can visit efcl.org to download the agenda, the Planning Committee update is on pg 34.  I was appointed as the District E representative on the Planning & Development Committee, thank you to the Meadowlark Community League for nominating me for the position.  The following communities fall within the district:

Britannia Youngstown – Canora – Crestwood – Elmwood – Glenora – Glenwood – Grovenor – High Park – Jasper Park – Laurier Heights – Lynnwood – Mayfield – McQueen – Meadowlark – North Glenora – Parkview – West Jasper/Sherwood – West Meadowlark

Family-friendly multi-unit housing, zoning bylaw amendments, transit oriented development, and living local recreation facility planning currently top the committee’s agenda.  We recently held a well attended workshop for the family-friendly initiative and are currently reviewing the feedback from participants.   The proposed Urban Character Row Housing Zone is one of the areas relating to zoning bylaw which the committee is focusing on.  With the Residential Infill Guidelines recommending the development of row housing across from schools and parks, we are working to ensure that the zone allows for appropriate amenity space for families, with a pedestrian friendly street orientation.  We have been attending key stakeholder workgroups for the proposed Transit and Land Use Framework, which when completed, will guide land-use around transit stations and corridors.  We are hopeful that public feedback will be solicited for the next draft version in November.

November 4th Update:

There are two stakeholder group events for the TOD framework scheduled for December, but still no word on public involvement events.

Community Consultation & New Developments

In response to some of the issues communities face (unclear procedures, timelines, league responsibilities, etc) when it comes to public consultation and new developments, the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues is hosting a meeting on November 3rd to discuss the issue with a number of stakeholders.  Please see the notice below for more information.

Do you have concerns about the consultation process for development permits or rezoning in your community? You are invited to a meeting with community league representatives, developers and city planning staff to provide input into improving community consultation in the pre-application phase of land development.  The meeting will be held Wednesday, November 3, 7 – 9 pm at the EFCL Office, 7103 105 Street.

Land developers and home owners are encouraged, and in some instances mandated to consult with Community Leagues and neighbours prior to applying for a building development permit or rezoning.

While there are many benefits to having a consultation at the pre-application stage, there are some concerns about the process.

Your input will be used to improve the process and perhaps prepare an information package.

Feel free to invite your neighbours who have been through the building process either as a home builder/renovator or as a neighbour who has been asked to review a development proposal.

All  input is welcomed and  helpful.

Please let EFCL know you are attending.  Contact Bev.Zubot@efcl.org or 780-437-2913.