After a lengthy public hearing that stretched late into the evening, Edmonton city council approved a modified proposal to build a condo tower near Grandin School in the Oliver neighbourhood — against the recommendation of city administration.
The tower, called “The View,” would be on a 16,000-square-foot lot at 111 Street and 99 Avenue, adjacent to the Grandin LRT Station.
The approved design is a downsized version of a 30-storey tower developer Westrich Pacific Corp. had proposed in 2017, which was rejected by council over concerns about the small lot size and how it would block the sky for residents to the south.
Since then, Westrich Pacific has shaved several storeys off the building located a few blocks west of the Alberta Legislature, bringing it to 23 storeys. The redesigned tower has 178 units, including a handful of “family-friendly” three or four-bedroom units.
David Sanche, a director with Westrich Pacific, said the company worked with the community league to redesign the proposed tower. Sanche said there was some back and forth communication, including going back to the drawing board with Vancouver-based Chris Dikeakos Architects, before both sides were happy with the final design.
“Other than the height, everything else that they have asked for — whether it’s community gardens, green space, bike parking — a whole list of 17 or 18 or 19 items, all of it we have done,” Sanche said at city hall Monday night.
Westrich Pacific is based in Edmonton but also builds in Vancouver. Sanche said the difference between building in the two cities is like night and day, adding Edmonton’s city administration has been very resistant to change.
“The planning department in Vancouver, they work with you, they look at context of an area. The don’t just look at the individual site by itself. They say, ‘Ok, let’s look at all of the properties in the area. Let’s look and see how your tower fits in with everything in the area. Not just the site by itself.'”
That’s one thing the Sanche feels Edmonton administration overlooked on its application and said the city needs to consider the broader context of the development.
“We believe it fits in really well, we believe it’s good for the city — it’s next to an LRT station,” Sanche said.
“They say, ‘Well, go build on a bigger site.’ I’ve demonstrated over and over, this six-block radius is finished. You don’t build on top of a church; you don’t build on top of a school; you don’t build on top of a bridge. It’s done. There’s no more land.”
Sanche added one of the biggest complaints he has heard about downtown is the lack of new, quality, affordable housing. He said in order for retail and commercial in downtown to thrive, you need to offer attractive housing options.
“You can’t thrive and be an attractive city without residents.”
Richard Bernstein with Chris Dikeakos Architects was also at city hall Monday for the revised pitch, which he described as “slim and elegant.”
“We feel this is a neighbourhood waiting to happen because it is two minutes from downtown Edmonton,” Bernstein said.
“If you look at North American cities across the board, neighbourhoods that are very close to the downtown business centre — those are neighbourhoods that are in transition. They are going to be changing — there will be some growing pains with some of that — but if you hold up a standard for design excellence, you’re going to get good product.”
“We feel this site is appropriately scaled,” Bernstein stressed.
Oliver Community League president Lisa Brown said they rejected the original proposal, but settled at feeling neutral about the redesign after improvements were added.
“I think ultimately the site is definitely over-development of a small site,” Lisa Brown said.
“It’s on a narrow street in a primarily residential area of Oliver. We prefer to see large towers located on Jasper Avenue and 104 Avenue. There are a few other streets that could accommodate, maybe 116 Street.”
Many residents who attended Monday’s council meeting opposed the plan. Their complaints included the tower affecting their views, increased traffic congestion, and the building’s height.
“We’re not against development,” said Randi Mewhort, a resident who lives next door and is not impressed with what she sees. “What we are against is bad design and poor choices in development, and this is really an over-development of a small site.”
Mewhort said while the setback has been increased, the height has only decreased by about 15 metres. Her biggest concern is the closure of an alley.
Mewhort said a 10- to 12-storey building would be more reasonable.
“I think it’s the best of a bad job. This site is too small for this development. But the developer is quite committed to maximizing what they are doing, and I think it’s a poor choice.”
City planning staff panned the design, because that particular area has low rise apartments and residential homes one fifth of what is being proposed.
Westrich Pacific hopes to break ground next year.