November 16, 2017 8:00 am

Council votes down bid by Old Strathcona developer

WestOak Development hopes to build a 20-storey tower on 105 Street and 81 Avenue.

Courtesy, WestOak Development
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City council has rejected a bid by a developer to remove a clause in a deal from a year-and-a-half ago that created quite a stir in Old Strathcona. The clause was central to the approval to WestOak Development building a 19-storey high rise apartment building a block south of Whyte Avenue.

The Mezzo at 105th Street would tower above Whyte, and the carrot dangled by WestOak’s Mathew McLash then was that 10 per cent of the units would be affordable housing. Normally, the required amount is five per cent.

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Kim Clegg, with the Queen Alexandra Community League, wasn’t happy then but was willing to live with it because of the affordable housing bonus.

“Even though we opposed it, it was at least some comfort that was going to be in there.”

However, partnership after partnership fell through for McLash. That list grew to seven — with Habitat for Humanity, the Social Enterprise Fund, the Capital Region Housing Corporation, Homeward Trust, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the Lung Association and even the city itself trying to make the numbers work in varying degrees — but there was no final agreement.

READ MORE: Edmonton city council approves 16-storey development in Old Strathcona

The public hearing was told McLash asked the city to purchase 14 of the 140 units. Senior planner Peter Ohm said they couldn’t make the numbers work. That’s when the community balked.

“To have that (affordable housing) taken away and have really nothing offered in return is not acceptable to us,” Clegg said.

“We do not believe that an affordable housing partner cannot be found,” added Maureen Duguay of the Strathcona Community League, “nor do we believe an alternate, equally beneficial affordable housing agreement cannot be worked out.”

The council vote was 11-1, with only Coun. Jon Dziadyk voting in favor of it, and Mayor Don Iveson absent from the public hearing. That’s a far cry from the three who spoke in opposition when the rezoning was first approved in April 2016.

READ MORE: Proposed 20-storey residential tower being met with opposition in Old Strathcona

“They sent the message — affordable housing (is) incredibly important to them,” McLash said. “(It’s) equally important to us.

“We need to be able to execute on those commitments and we need partnerships to do it so we’re very keen and we’ll double down on our efforts to work out a relationship as soon as we can.”

The affordable housing issue didn’t sit well with Coun. Ben Henderson.

“This seems like a betrayal of the one piece of the deal… that was one of the benefits for the community.”

“Because we’ve already tendered the project, we have the trades ready to go in the spring,” McLash said of what comes next. “But that’s all subject to permitting.

“Without a permit we can’t build. And in order to get that permit we need the affordable housing relationship. So as soon as we can put that relationship together, we will get in the ground.”

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