Edmonton city council is being urged by conservationists to take any proceeds from the land sale that would be the basis of an 80-storey tower, tentatively called Quarters Hotel and Residences, on the edge of the river valley, and use it to buy up and preserve more river valley land.
Charlie Richmond of the Sierra Club is of that view.
He told city council’s executive committee Tuesday the heavily sloped parcel of land that’s surrounded by retaining walls, roads, and sits on an abandoned coal mine has little value as parkland.
“That area is, I shouldn’t say sacrificial, but I can’t imagine a more modified piece of land.”
That’s how the administration sees it as well.
“It, in its pure sense, is not totally natural,” planning boss Gary Klassen said. “There was no other plans at this point in time and that also explains why, in the report, it wasn’t being viewed as surplus. It simply was being viewed as land that we weren’t going to pursue any other activity on.”
Klassen told councillors during the public portion of the debate the deal in front of them was fair market value, although a price tag on what’s fair market is being kept quiet. The project would pump $3 million a year back into the Quarters and the community revitalization levy in taxation.
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Alldritt wants to build an 80-storey tower just east of the Shaw Conference Centre at 96 Street, suggesting it would kick-start more development in the Quarters, which would anchor development in east downtown.
“Let me be clear. We will build this tower. I say that with confidence,” Alldritt’s David Benjestoft told the councillors amid questions that the developer would flip the land for a profit if the sale of park land, and zoning for the tower is granted.
However there is plenty of opposition.
“It’s not a matter if it’s 10 storeys, 40 storeys or 80,” Harvey Voogd of the North Saskatchewan River Valley Conservation Society said. “Certainly 80 will dominate the skyline so size does matter in terms of impact but really it’s the precedent.
“There is no reason to sell river valley parkland. This development can happen in lots of places in the city. We have zoning in place that is appropriate.”
“Certainly there are councillors who will justify it by saying that this will spur development,” Voogd said. “Others may justify it by saying we’ll take the proceeds of the sale this land and use it for land purchase elsewhere in the river valley, but that justification doesn’t make the first sale right. It’s going to be a close vote I believe.”
Architect Barry Kennedy tried to assure council that the construction would be sound because the tower would be built on a platform of pilings that would be more than 200 feet deep in some areas, down into the bedrock that sits below the abandoned coal mine.
“We understand with no uncertainty that this kind of a project, should it fail, is a career-limiting move for all of us. This is our business.”
The final decision on zoning will be Wednesday, Feb. 22.
The issue of the land sale will be brought back to committee on Feb. 28.