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Edmonton city council sends Holyrood Gardens proposal back to developer for more work

Future of Holyrood Gardens up in the air
WATCH ABOVE: Edmonton city council sent the contentious Holyrood Gardens back to the drawing board. The developer questions what it will mean for other projects. Fletcher Kent reports.

Edmonton city councillors have said no to a developer’s current proposal for a massive apartment and townhouse development along the Valley Line LRT.

With an 8-5 vote on Monday, the proposed towers at Holyrood Gardens, next door to single-family homes across a laneway, were rejected.

“We have two sets of guidelines, neither of which we followed,” complained Councillor Ben Henderson, who led the referral motion to have Regency Developments work some more with city planning staff.

The proposed 1,200-unit development is planned along 85 Street between 90 Avenue and 95 Avenue. Its shape – long and narrow – has posed some design problems.

Henderson said his biggest worry is the precedent the project would set for other large-scale and transit-oriented developments (TOD) in the coming years.

“We made a number of commitments to all of our communities, not just this one, through what we said a neighbourhood stop would look like, for what we said the transitions would look like on large-site developments that we’re not adhering to in here.”

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READ MORE: Edmonton city councillor seeks postponement of Holyrood Gardens

Mayor Don Iveson said that from now on, the planning department for TOD and large-scale projects will as a matter of practice run everything through the city’s design committee to make sure they’re suitable.

“I think there were some process issues with how this unfolded and some real design issues with how height, and particularly, fairly blocky height of these very, very wide towers was going to hit the adjacent neighbourhoods, literally across the lane and across the street.”

With $3.6 billion worth of LRT coming in the next few years, Iveson said council wants to get the pre-approval process right. He said it wasn’t right 10 years ago, with the council of the day being too prescriptive with Century Park.

“That became unbuildable. It was so restrictive and it was so specific,” Iveson said.

“I think we over-corrected into pretty general, and that works for a more run-of-the-mill application, but for something as this, with such profound impact on the adjacent neighbours and neighbourhoods, I think we need something in between.”

The project proposed three towers across four hectares of property, which included a lot of park space and walking paths.

“The community was less interested in that essentially private green space than they were in mitigating the impacts of significant height,” Iveson said.

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The city’s administration pushed for that, according to planner Michelle Ouellette, as well as emergency access requirements, additional lane upgrades to accommodate traffic and design of the actual openings on 93 Avenue, the midpoint of the project.

READ MORE: Ambitious proposal sees blocks of residential towers in Edmonton’s Holyrood neighbourhood

“Overall, there’s a lot of things and a lot of work that we did to negotiate [with Regency] the outcome that we have today, so I feel as administration, we have done our job here,” Ouellette said.

She told council public expectations were not going to be met.

“At the front end, the expectations from the community to have a co-creative process are very unrealistic when it comes to dealing with land development applications that are being sponsored by a private land owner.”

Raj Dhunna of Regency and Simon O’Byrne with Stantec left city hall without providing comment.

Council encouraged Regency to work with Epcor and TransEd to begin utility upgrade work as soon as possible so that when the next version of Holyrood Gardens is back – and potentially approved – construction can begin. Second and third reading of a bylaw to allow utility upgrades will be voted on by city council next week.