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Edmonton development delayed as residents divided on density

Warren Frey
Edmonton development delayed as residents divided on density

A contentious Edmonton neighbourhood redevelopment plan is facing delays and division on how to proceed. The City of Edmonton’s ambitious Valley Line light rail transit (LRT) project includes a stop in the Holyrood Gardens neighbourhood, located southeast and across the Saskatchewan River from the city’s downtown core.

But the planned extent of redevelopment, using the new station as an anchor, is receiving mixed reviews from stakeholders.

A public hearing about the Holyrood Gardens redevelopment will now take place in November, after the Edmonton municipal election in October. The hearing was originally scheduled for Sept. 11 but Edmonton City Council was unable to devote substantial discussion time to the issue and instead decided to move it forward.

But fundamental issues remain, including push-and-pull on the potential size of several highrises that are slated for construction by the new Valley Line LRT station.

"The frustration is that this community wanted this line developed and there was an expectation of density, but somewhere along the line the scale of the proposal diverged," said Edmonton city councillor Ben Henderson.

"There is pressure to densify. We have the station there and we need to get more around the station, but we don’t need to go from one extreme to the other. If we do densification as carelessly as we’ve done sprawl, we may end up with neighbourhoods no one wants to live in anymore."

Holyrood Community League civics director Dave Sutherland echoed concerns that the push for development was a case of too much, too soon.

"Holyrood is primarily a neighbourhood of single-family homes with a handful of low-rise apartments (three to five storeys). The Valley Line LRT station that will be built adjacent to our community is not a full-fledged station, but a ‘neighbourhood stop’ that is little more than shelters and curbside boarding," Sutherland said via email.

"We want a development that reflects these factors by offering a more ‘gentle density,’ and helps fulfill the ‘missing middle’ of up to six storeys that many cities are looking for, Edmonton included."

Despite the proposed reconfiguration of the neighbourhood with the LRT station as a focal point, Henderson expressed reservations that traffic flow in and out of Holyrood Gardens would suffer due to redevelopment.

"The previous owners had worked out a transport plan that made sense, but the trouble is they lost the land, and what is being proposed right now, I’m not sure it acts the same way," Henderson said.

"I usually don’t worry about traffic, but in this case we might be creating a nightmare scenario which needs to be addressed. If you can’t get past the tracks, traffic backs up through the neighbourhood, past the school and senior centre."

Sutherland noted community reaction to the public hearing delay was mixed and with an upcoming municipal election, council’s direction on the project could change.

"The reasons for the delay — a last-minute issue with drainage rights-of-way that needed immediate attention — were frustrating to us because it is evidence that backs up our claim that the proposal has been rushed," Sutherland said. "We’ve felt that this proposal has been rushed from the beginning, so the additional time will hopefully allow all stakeholders to re-engage and hopefully see some more revisions before it goes back to council for approval."

There are positive aspects to the development, Sutherland said, including an improvement over the current housing stock.

"The existing townhouses on the site must go; they were not built to last as long as they have and are in bad shape and are frankly a visual blight right now," Sutherland said.

Retail space proposed by the developer also holds potential, he said, and "additional density on the doorstep of an LRT stop will help the city get a return on this infrastructure investment."

Calls by the Journal of Commerce to Regency Developments were not returned by press deadline.

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