Edmonton councillors approve controversial high-rise tower despite chief planner’s concerns

Edmonton city council debates whether to approve a proposed, 45-storey residential tower on June 27, 2016. Shallima Maharaj/ Global News

A developer’s plan to build a 45-storey residential tower in Oliver, a building more than three times as tall as the current height limit in the area, was approved by Edmonton City Council Monday night.

Mayor Don Iveson voted against the proposal along with councillors Ben Henderson, Scott McKeen and Andrew Knack.

Regency Developments will now be able to build its massive residential tower on a gravel lot at Jasper Avenue and 114 Street.

“I think we heard clearly from the community that they weren’t opposed to 45 storeys – neither am I,” Iveson said after the vote. “I don’t think anyone on council said 45 storeys is the issue.”

Instead, Iveson suggested he thought the city could have negotiated for more of a net benefit to the west downtown community given that the development potential the city is giving Regency.

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“If you want 45 storeys and $50-million worth of extra-development potential, there have to be some great public amenities and great urban design and we did OK here, but not as well as I would like to see our city get in return for this much new entitlement and development opportunity,” the mayor said. “That said, I think it’s going to be a good project overall, it just wasn’t quite where I think a project of this magnitude needs to be for it to have my unqualified support.”

Earlier this month, the City of Edmonton’s chief city planner appeared to recommend councillors reject the project unless the developer offered more value to the community of Oliver.

READ MORE: Tall tower proposal for central Edmonton runs into opposition

“Our general position on this is we have not obtained the rationale – the planning rationale – for a building of that height,” Peter Ohm said on June 10.

Regency did agree to sell five per cent of the roughly 270 units offered at 85 per cent market value but did not accept the cash in lieu option the councillors typically ask of developers.

READ MORE: Discussion on Jasper Ave high-rise put on hold for two weeks

Another concern for some was the fact most of the parking spots planned for the development will be above ground, although Regency plans to hide the above-ground parking with coloured glass.

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Iveson acknowledged the glass design will work in this case but said he is concerned the above-ground parking and other elements of the developer’s proposal could set a new precedent for the area.

“Now allowing so much of the parking to go above grade in place of residential or commercial activity in the podium – I think that that could create a precedent,” the mayor said. “Each one of these applications is one of a kind and a moment in time, so I really hope that’s not the new trend because I think that would really cheapen the look of Jasper Avenue if we saw many buildings like that.”

Mo Banga, a first-time city councillor who voted to approve the project, suggested the state of the economy played a role in his decision.

“In these tough economic times, anybody willing to spend $50 million and in this economy when everybody’s trying to hold on to their money, it’s good for our city,” he said. “We’re not getting everything that we could have asked for but we’re getting most of the things.”

“This is the one time where city council can create new value and usually, smart cities deal that in exchange for affordable housing, offsite contributions to parks, great urban design on the podium or the tower – and we didn’t get all of those things,” Iveson said.

The mayor added that despite his concerns, the city did “OK here” but hopes to see a higher standard expected of developers going forward.

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Coun. Scott McKeen also expressed his disappointment following the vote.

“We didn’t negotiate a good deal here,” he said. “As a city, we could have negotiated a better deal for this community and yet that idea fell on a lot of deaf ears tonight. For some reason, when it comes to developers like this, we are supposed to roll over.”

Regency Developments has said it wants to make its development “attainable” by offering two-bedroom, two-bath units that are expected to start in the $350,000 range.

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