Frustrations mount over townhouse project in Edmonton’s Twin Brooks neighbourhood

Click to play video 'Frustrations over First Place townhouse project in Twin Brooks neighbourhood' Frustrations over First Place townhouse project in Twin Brooks neighbourhood
WATCH ABOVE: Angry residents filled a open house Saturday to vent about a First Place Program affordable housing project slated to be built in Edmonton's Twin Brooks. Julia Wong reports – Dec 4, 2016

Dozens of residents packed a west Edmonton open house Saturday to air their dissent about The First Place Program.

The program was approved by city council in 2006 and aims to develop townhouses on vacant land that is declared surplus by school boards.

In Twin Brooks, the plot of land set aside for the program is roughly 0.8 hectares within a nine-hectare plot of land.

Residents have many concerns about the program, in particular the encroachment on green space.

“The community is essentially losing four, some would say five soccer fields and a multi-use area. It’s used for a variety of things – for community events, the school uses it for fun fit days, for Terry Fox runs,” Wes Vanderleeuw said, chairman of the Twin Brooks Council.

“If you take away the space of which a community of almost 6,500 people live, it’s going to have an enormous impact on people.”

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Vanderleeuw is also upset over the lack of consultation over the project and said more studies need to be done. He rejects the idea residents are feeling NIMBY attitudes – meaning not in my backyard.

“Rights have been violated. Consultation hasn’t occurred for any community whatsoever. Basic rights, bylaws have been broken. It’s nowhere near NIMBY,” he said.

Residents voice their concerns regarding a proposed development in Twin Brooks. Global News

Councillor Mike Nickel is adamantly against the First Place Program. He said the process was flawed to begin with.

Nickel said drainage projects and flood mitigation show the city will lose sports fields and green space and the city needs to think twice before moving ahead with the project.

“You’re taking away fields from here. They’re getting a net loss on flood mitigation and you’re not replacing that. Where are the priorities here?” he said.

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“Drainage has got to be number one. If things flood, you have to take care of the drainage and then you have to make the community whole again. In terms of their green space, their right to green space, their right to amenities like soccer fields and baseball pitches, I think that has got to be number two.”

Nickel said there is a green space target for neighbourhoods.

“I think they have to take a very hard look here. I saw if they’re net negative, based on our standards that we all should be entitled to, then how can this program move forward?”

Tim McCargar, the project lead of the First Place Program, said the initiative has so far designed 600 homes and helped approximately 350 families.

He said resistance is common when it comes to developing new homes in existing communities.

“It’s not uncommon for people to mistake the vacant building sites as green space. We’ve had temporary fields on land for maybe 20 years in some areas,” he said.

“When schools are not developed and are declared surplus, the city has the opportunity to use those vacant building sites for other purposes and council’s direction was to develop new homes for first-time buyers.”

He said the site in Twin Brooks was originally slated to have two elementary schools with green space in between the buildings. He said green space has already been considered for the First Place program.

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“All the sports fields that were planned for the [schools] are still in the city’s inventory. All of the planned open space that was outlined in the statutory plan and approved by council in the past will remain and be available to the community,” McCargar said, adding there is no way to put brakes on the program.

The open house was meant to gather residents for a design engagement committee. The developer, Landmark Homes, said this is when negative attitudes start to change.

“We typically find that in the First Place program to start. By the end of the process, we find we have more advocates for the program than before,” Chris Houlind said.

Joelle Belletrutti has lived in the neighbourhood since March. She is not overly enthusiastic about the project, citing concerns with green space and parking, but said she wants to get involved. She said the likelihood is the project will go ahead.

“That’s a done deal. That’s a lost cause at this point. I would like to be a part of the design committee so I can make sure I have my input given for what the [townhouses] will look like,” she said.

“I just think it’s important they blend in with the style of the homes that are already here.”

Roughly 44 units will be built in the Twin Brooks First Place program. There is no timeline on when ground will be broken.

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