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Proposed condo puts future of popular Edmonton diner in doubt

Proposed high-rise development in downtown Edmonton has people divided
WATCH ABOVE: (From Aug. 29, 2018) Opinions are mixed about a development proposed for downtown Edmonton. As Julia Wong reports, if the development goes through, it could see a popular restaurant be forced to move.

The future of a popular restaurant in downtown Edmonton’s Warehouse District is in doubt if a proposed condominium building for the site goes ahead.

The plan by Limak Investments and Urban Capital, posted online last week, would see a 33-storey structure built on two properties along 104 Street near Jasper Ave., one of which includes Blue Plate Diner.

“My first initial thought was like everyone else’s: ‘Where are we going to go?’ and ‘What is going to happen to us?'” Blue Plate Diner owner and general manager John Williams said.

The building would be mixed use, with residential condo units making up the upper 17 storeys. Hotel units would fill the middle 13 storeys, and retail and lobby space would occupy the lower podium.

READ MORE: Former Knox-Metropolitan United Church demolished to make way for condos

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Blue Plate Diner has been a go-to restaurant in the area for years, after opening its doors 14 years ago. As a downtown resident and supporter of the revitalization efforts in the area, Williams said he’s come around on the development idea.

“Having more density and fine-grain infill in areas like this is, it will only benefit downtown. It just happens to be in the spot where we are,” he said.

“The resident part of me and supporter of downtown part of me, definitely loves the idea of having a hotel in this area,” he said. “The restaurant part of me — just because Blue Plate is here — I’m just waiting to see what happens.”

Williams said he’s been working with Limak on what it might mean for the restaurant. He’s not too worried for now, as he knows these types of developments can take time.

“I should make it clear the landlord and I, we’ve been communicating extensively since they first told us about this proposal,” he said.

“We’re working together on this. Rather than being viewed as being pushed out, we’re looking at this as an opportunity to move somewhere else or an opportunity to find somewhere else. It could be an amazing spot.”

READ MORE: Proposed high-rise development would change downtown Edmonton skyline

Shauna Warwick, condo president of the building next to the proposed development, said residents in Phillip Lofts have some concerns.

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“What we’re worried about is something that will not be to scale with the community and particularly this side of the street,” she said.

“There are no high-rises on the east side of the street right now. I think a lot of people feel that putting a high-rise on this side of the street would disrupt the character.”

Warwick said residents are on board with the hotel concept but have questions in general about what the proposed development could look like.

Taya Cook, director of development with Urban Capital, said she could not release too many details about the project, citing an agreement with the yet-to-be-named hotel partner. She declined to comment on why the development is a combination of hotel and residential condos.

However, Cook said the site on 104 Street was picked because it is a “fantastic location” that’s right downtown and said the company is working with a good local partner.

Residents said the development would mean a more vibrant downtown, even if it requires changes for Blue Plate Diner.

“Even if it does have to go, I’m sure it will be reborn somewhere else,” Dean Smith said. “It would be a shame to lose it but Edmonton is changing and development happens.”

Another resident, Malini Murthy, said more density is needed to improve the vitality of the neighbourhood.

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“It’s easy to feel nostalgic about things in this neighbourhood, but I think, hopefully, overall change is good,” Murthy said.

Resident Tom Redl said further densification is needed for the city to remain sustainable, even if some existing businesses like Blue Plate are affected.

“Progress is inevitable. We just have to respect the past, particularly the architecture,” Redl said.

READ MORE: Development versus heritage debate continues over downtown high-rise

The developers are proposing changing the zoning of the properties from a heritage zone to a site specific development control provision.

Travis Pawlyk, a senior planner with the City of Edmonton, said the city has not received any application for the site yet, though it has received a pre-application notification letter, which is sent to the city prior to a rezoning application.

Pawlyk said the current heritage area zoning allows for buildings that are between 30 and 35 storeys. He said an application for DC2 zoning would allow an applicant to have a bigger building footprint.

He said any application for rezoning would require the developer to conduct technical studies for shadow, sun, wind and traffic to see if it is compatible with the surrounding area.

Pawlyk said it typically takes between six to eight months after an application is received for administration to forward recommendation to council.

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The developers are holding a community information session at the proposed site on Wednesday, Sept. 12 between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

With files from Caley Ramsay, Global News.