Designing Density

Maybe you grew up playing with Lego. Or maybe you enjoyed – or more likely became frustrated with – designing cities using SimCity. Both teach us that good building requires good planning.

This fall, Edmonton City Council approved two significant tower developments—one in Oliver and one Downtown. In Oliver, council approved a 23-storey tower on two lots where single detached homes currently sit. And in Downtown, council approved a surface parking lot to be rezoned from allowing a density ratio (called the floor to area ratio, or FAR) of 8-10 to 17. The decision nearly doubled the allowed size of the two proposed towers.

The Oliver Community League and Downtown Edmonton Community League recently told council we’re concerned about its trend of approving tower developments with increased densities, and without consideration for market demand, the effect on surrounding land prices and the diversity of built form.

Why do our community leagues take issue now, after years of being generally supportive of tower developments? Because the applications being proposed are much denser than before and this has a real and lasting effect on the overall real estate market. We feel our communities are reaching a point where we need better city planning in order to build a healthy city.

Many of the rezoning applications being proposed are between 50 to 100 per cent denser than what currently exists. These proposals require more thought and reflection as a city on the effects on the neighbourhood and other redevelopments across Edmonton. Many projects are at stake when we don’t question excessive density bonusing at specific sites.

Land development in Edmonton is significantly regulated. It’s regulated by the city administration, through City Council, through development officers and through the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board. You can build what you want on your land as long as it adheres to the rules – called zoning. The city provides a suite of standard zoning. If you want to build something that doesn’t fit in one of those zones, however, you have the option to write your own – a ‘direct control’ zone.

In the last decade, most rezonings in Oliver and Downtown have been direct control. These direct control zones have often allowed developers to build far more height and more density than previously allowed. In some cases, the resulting towers don’t adhere to Edmonton’s own rules and guidelines, let alone good urban-planning and design principles.

For example: Council approved a direct-control zone for a development at Jasper Avenue and 114 Street. The zoning allows for a 45-storey tower with 273 units and a floor to area ratio of 12.4. The increase in density is vastly different than the single-storey commercial buildings in the area, and enables the developer to sell many more units from this parcel of land. And yet, the developer successfully argued they were not able to provide three-bedroom units to the community to house families or an underground parkade.

Theoretically, each zoning application must stand on its own. City Council is not required to make decisions based on precedence or past decisions. This leads to the belief that their decisions do not affect the land development market. But they do.

Allowing a developer to develop a tower with more density than neighbouring properties through a direct-control zone sets cascading reactions in motion. Land prices climb as landowners presume development opportunities are ever increasing with each approved upzoning. Land prices may not be a significant hurdle for a large tower development, but they can make developments in the “missing middle” form – row-homes, townhouses, low-rises and courtyard apartments – near impossible or overly expensive.

A community league must advocate not only for its current residents but also future residents. What will the next generation of Downtown and Oliver experience living in the core? What are the cumulative effects of haphazard approvals that don’t consider allocation of public amenities, like green space and recreation? That don’t examine impacts to sunlight penetration and wind tunneling? That don’t respect market forces on affordability and land speculation?

In Oliver, single-storey development and surface parking lots dominate Jasper and 104 avenues. Meanwhile, Downtown has surface parking lots covering almost entire blocks. While densification of our city is crucial, our two communities have many plots of land available for development. If this land is underutilized it makes our home less enjoyable, healthy and safe.

Planning our neighbourhoods properly requires understanding how many people we want to accommodate, and creating a framework to ensure a diversity of housing can be provided. Downtown has the award-winning Capital City Downtown Plan, which is due for renewal in a few years. But Oliver hasn’t seen an update to the Area Redevelopment Plan since 1995, well before the closure of the City Centre Airport that restricted building heights.

The City of Edmonton is currently renewing our Municipal Development Plan – “the City Plan” – and will look to shape our city to sustainably accommodate two million people. It’s likely that the populations of Downtown and Oliver will more than double within the coming generation. It’s going to take a lot of effort – and planning – to make sure we create vibrant urban communities. We need diverse and affordable housing choices, access to active and public transportation, and access to amenities like parks, libraries, local coffee shops and grocery stores.

DECL Winter Events

December 13, 7-10pm | Annual Holiday Mixer

Come celebrate the season with your Downtown neighbours, partners and supporters! Light refreshments and beverages will be served, cash bar available. 10042 103 Street

 

Every Friday, 10 -11:30am | Urban Kids Playgroup

Our playgroup meets weekly for parents and tots up to 5. Coffee and snacks provided! 10042 103 Street

 

January 17, February 21 | DECL Socials

Meet your neighbours! Times and locations TBA Check on our Facebook page or the monthly DECL newsletter for more details as dates draw near!

Downtown’s Future Is (Still) Residential

Our fall issue delves into the history of community leagues. But if we look ahead into the future of our own league and downtown community, it’s clear there will simply be far more residents living here.

DECL is responding to an unprecedented number of new development applications. Many of these proposals are developments that will house hundreds, if not thousands of new residents. Many boosters talk about “20,000 in 2020,” and if these new proposals go ahead, we will be a little behind but not far off from those numbers. Urban planning experts say these are the sort of population numbers necessary for downtown to be sustainable, to encourage walkable retail and to retain offices and workers.

The first significant push for new residential housing downtown was in the form of the new Capital City Downtown Plan, in 1997. An update to that plan, in 2010, saw a confirmation that a significant future for our downtown was having people live here. Since that first plan, we saw an approximate doubling of our population, from 6300 in 1997 to about 13,000 people today. Downtown Edmonton has been one of the fastest growing neighbourhoods during that time.

Much of proposed development for the future comes from a new confidence in downtown due to recent investment, both public and private. New residential towers combined with public money flowing into parks and streetscaping are spurring results. The most significant ‘catalyst’ project downtown, Rogers Place, is now being augmented by western Canada’s tallest towers. Alex Decoteau Park has given residents a place to meet neighbours and be proud of the place we call home.

Some of the new proposed residential towers are pushing westward, into the warehouse area west of 104 Street. These proposals are a direct result of the proposed ‘Central Park’ planned for 106 Street to 107 Street, on vacant land between Jasper Avenue and 102 Avenue, an area at least four times larger than Alex Decoteau Park, which would serve the recreational needs of much of our neighbourhood.

The city is actively working with landowners in the area to purchase land, and developers are hedging their bets that this new catalyst will bring new opportunities and life into what is currently mostly gravel parking lots.

But this revitalization could stall. It will require Edmonton City Council to continue to invest in our downtown, particularly to make the development of this park and other important catalyst projects like streetscaping a priority in the upcoming fall budget. Continued momentum in both public and private investment downtown requires us all to work together and come to consensus on the type of community we want to see.

If you want to learn more about how our downtown is changing, what’s proposed, and share what you’d like to see develop, our development committee we would love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at info@decl.org.

Chris Buyze

President, Downtown Edmonton Community League

DECL Fall Events

CornFest 2018 | September 15, 11 – 3pm

Join us again this year at Alex Decoteau Park for free corn-on-the-cob, kids activities, community-garden tours and more!

 

Urban Kids Playgroup | Fridays starting September 21, 10 – 11:30am

Our playgroup meets weekly for parents and tots up to 5. Coffee and snacks provided!

 

Sunday Yoga | September 9 to October 28, 11am

Register at declyoga@yahoo.com. Free for DECL members, $10 for others.

 

DECL SOCIALS

Meet other DECL members, meet your neighbours!

September 20Pub crawl | locations to be determined, stay tuned!

October 19, 6 – 9pm | All ages board games night | DECL HQ.

November 15 Pool night | All abilities welcome, Metro Billiards, 10250 106 Street. Details TBD

 

As of September 1, DECL Memberships are FREE. Yes, FREE! Join once and that’s it! Sign up at one of our events or visit us at the City Market on 104 Street on September 22 for more info.

DECL Summer Events

FRIDAYS
Urban Kids Playgroup

Our playgroup meets weekly for parents and tots 0-5. Coffee and snacks provided! 10:30am – 12:30pm, DECL (10042 103 Street)

 

JUNE 15, JULY 20 AND AUGUST 17
Urban Kids Family Night

Our monthly family night continues for kids and parents. Join us for games, talent shows and more. 6 – 8pm, DECL (10042 103 Street)

 

JUNE 16, 9 – 11:30AM
Annual Pancake Breakfast

Join us for pancakes, sausages, coffee and juice just $2. Want to volunteer? info@decl.org  9 – 11:30am, DECL (10042 103 Street)

 

JUNE 16, 5PM TO LATE
DECL at Fruit Loop Pride Wrap-Up Party

Celebrate Pride Week Downtown with a block party at 103 Street and 103 Avenue. Visit our booth for free popcorn! 5pm to late, in front of Denizen Hall (10311 103 Avenue)

It’s Time to Talk Cannibis

We’ve heard for some time about government legalizing cannabis. But do we know how this new legislation from our governments will affect our communities in Edmonton?

There are many issues to consider: will consumers choose to smoke, vape or eat cannabis? Where will you be allowed to sell it, and where will you be allowed to consume it? What are the costs to citizens and are there any public safety considerations?

Whether or not the sale and consumption of cannabis is legalized on July 1, as once expected, by the federal government, local governments have nonetheless been preparing for it for a significant amount of time. Edmonton City Council has debated many questions and potential problems around the issue, and has asked residents for their opinion on many aspects of how the drug
will be regulated here.

One aspect the DECL board has been dealing with is in regards to sales. The city is anticipating hundreds of applications for cannabis retail stores the day pot goes legal. Already we are seeing signs around the core advertising new pot shops that are ‘Coming Soon’.

Once legal, companies will be permitted to open a cannabis retail store in many areas of the downtown, but not just anywhere. Proposed zoning regulations suggest a 200 metre separation between stores, as well as separation from public health facilities, schools, libraries and parks. While Calgary is making cannabis sales discretionary in most zones, here retail sales will be permitted in many zones, assuming you meet all other criteria set out by the regulations.

The DECL board is supportive of cannabis sales in many of our downtown zones, including our mixed-use residential zones like the Heritage Area (HA) Zone of 104 Street, and the Urban Warehouse (UW) Zone. The board feels those living and working in pedestrian-friendly areas should have cannabis stores within walking distance. It also feels these stores could fill some vacant retail
spaces.

But, that said, there will be limited locations in the downtown that will satisfy all of the City of Edmonton’s criteria. And cannabis sales are unrelated to potential future cannabis lounges
or cafes, which will not be permitted on the same premises. These will not be dealt with by the city in the first year of legalization, nor have been consulted on yet.

While Canada leads the world in the decriminalization of drugs like cannabis, how it’s sold, consumed and its effects on our community are a work in progress. If you have any thoughts and concerns, we would love to hear from you at info@decl.org.

Chris Buyze
President, Downtown Edmonton Community League

Women Say We Need Change

These are important times for women. Strong women are finding their voice, having been silenced for so long. Women everywhere are being empowered to share their stories. The issues we’re seeing come forth on television, in Hollywood are now happening in our own downtown streets.

Our spring issue is dedicated to the women of Central Edmonton, the women in our lives that do so much and are the lifeblood of our families, friends and community. Even today these women face challenges, prejudice and other injustices that make us collectively shake our heads in disbelief.

The Yards decided to tackle these tough topics, like the abrupt closing of The Needle Vinyl Tavern, and the rumours that surrounded it. The Needle was a wildly successful bar that supported LGBTQ events and was host of local bands. The news of alleged inappropriate behaviour came as a shock. Little did we know that the opening of Rogers Place would also see women residents raise intimidation and safety concerns. Many visitors don’t see downtown as a neighbourhood where people live, let alone women.

We also wanted to celebrate the many achievements of women who contribute to creating a safe, welcoming and vibrant downtown neighbourhood. And we wanted to highlight the stories of those who work in downtown’s culinary scene who have gone above and beyond to show us how the hospitality industry can show leadership by addressing some of the issues women face.

One such program that helps women feel safer in bars is the Best Bar None program by Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission. The program “demonstrates a continuing commitment to providing top-notch service in well-managed and safe environments.” In February 2017, the voluntary program expanded to include a written policy that covers sexual harassment. At their eighth-annual awards night in November, several downtown bars, including Central Social Hall and Kelly’s Pub, were recognized for their efforts.

What recent events have shown us is that these policies are not enough to ensure people feel safe working in, living in and coming downtown. We must admit we have a problem and all take steps to work collectively to ensure our communities are safe for all people.

Chris Buyze

President, Downtown Community League

DECL Spring Events

Urban Kids Playgroup | FRIDAYS, 10:30AM – 12:30PM 

Our playgroup has returned on Fridays! Parents (and their tots, ages 0 to 5) can join us for coffee, snacks and a chance to get to know other families living downtown.

 

Urban Kids Family Night | MARCH 16, APRIL 20, MAY 18, 6-8PM.

Our monthly family night continues for kids and parents. Join us for games, talent shows and more.

 

DECL Noon-Hour Yoga | THURSDAYS, 12:10PM – 12:50PM

Free noon-hour yoga at DECL! Take a break to breathe and relax your mind with Irma and Jessica, enjoy some flow and Hatha practices at lunch! All levels welcome and beginner friendly! Space is limited, please register at declyoga@yahoo.com.

 

Spring Clean-Up | MAY 6, 10AM

Our annual Downtown clean-up coincides with the River Valley Cleanup. Meet at DECL at 10am with work clothes, we will supply the coffee and tools!

 

Annual General Meeting | APRIL 24, 6:30PM REGISTRATION, 7PM MEETING

Join us for updates on the business of the league, as well as special guest presentation by Friends of the Royal Alberta Museum and more! Want to join our board? Contact us at info@decl.org to find out more.

Conversion Immersion

It’s hard to believe this is our third anniversary of The Yards. Only three short years ago, The Yards was launched in partnership with the Downtown Edmonton and Oliver Community Leagues to serve as the voice of Edmonton’s core. In that short time we’ve had the pleasure of working with local editors, writers, illustrators and volunteers to bring you a hyper-local community newsmagazine to be proud of.

Since we started, we’ve seen the opening of Rogers Place, a pilot that looks at the future of Jasper Avenue and we have featured portraits of many talented community volunteers.

We’re proud to bring you this, our third edition of ‘Best of the Core’ – everything we know to be fantastic and fabulous about living in our communities.

Now we can ponder: What will the future bring?

It’s been 20 years since the first Capital City Downtown Plan (CCDP) was approved. There’s a measurable difference from then to now. Back then, only 5,300 people lived in the downtown core; now we’re looking upwards of 14,000. Can we get to the ‘magic’ 20,000 by 2020, as envisioned by the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force?

The CCDP imagines a sustainable downtown as one with a vibrant community of people living there, taking ownership for, and living in a walkable community along- side arts, culture, entertainment, business and retail services. Add to that recent amen- ities to make downtown more livable.

Previous Downtown Plans have enabled landowners to take older, vacant office buildings and convert them to residential buildings. In the early 2000s, a wave of office-to-residential conversions brought life to some buildings and reinvigorated our Downtown with people who live, work and shop in their community.

Recent vacancies mean we could see a second wave of conversions.

If these conversions move us towards our goal of a sustainable Downtown, the more the merrier. While new office building construction is wonderful to see, it’s also the addition of people Downtown that will ensure there is a thriving community. The Downtown Edmonton Community League will continue to serve them and The Yards Magazine will continue to be the voice of our neighbourhood.

Chris Buyze
President, Downtown Edmonton Community League

DECL Winter Events

FRIDAYS, 10:30 AM – 12:30 PM
Urban Kids Playgroup

Our playgroup has returned on Fridays. Parents (and their tots, ages 0 to 5) can join us for coffee, snacks and a chance to get to know other families living downtown

DECEMBER 15, JANUARY 23, FEBRUARY 16, 6-8PM
Urban Kids Family Night

Our monthly family night returns for kids and parents. Join us for games, talent shows and more.

Wednesdays, 12:10 PM – 12:50 PM
DECL Noon-Hour Yoga

Free noon-hour yoga at DECL. Take a break to breathe and relax your mind with Irma and Jessica, and enjoy some ow and Hatha practices at lunch. All levels welcome and beginner friendly. Space is limited. Please register at irma.yoga22@gmail.com.

DECEMBER 14, 7-10PM
Christmas Mixer

Come celebrate the season with your downtown neighbours. Bring some baking to share. Light refreshments will be provided and there will be a cash bar. Donations of warm clothing and new socks will be used to decorate our tree and donated to Boyle Street Community Services.

DECEMBER 6 AND EVERY SECOND WEDNESDAY STARTING JANUARY 17, 7 PM
DECL Book Club

Join us for the return of the DECL Book Club. We focus on urban themes both fiction and non-fiction.