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Development around the arena district gets going

The proposal aims to rezone both locations to the “arena entertainment district.” The change would allow buildings up to 180 metres tall, and increased opportunities for signage.
The proposal aims to rezone both locations to the “arena entertainment district.” The change would allow buildings up to 180 metres tall, and increased opportunities for signage. Global News

The developments around the proposed downtown arena site are taking their first steps forward tonight.

Wednesday night, a public meeting was held in the McDougal United Church to discuss a proposal to rezone the Greyhound Bus Station on 103 Street and 103 Avenue, along with a nearby parking lot – both are across the street from the new arena site.

The proposal aims to rezone both locations to the “arena entertainment district.”

According to Peter Odinga, a senior planner with Sustainable Development, the change would allow buildings up to 180 metres tall, with increased opportunities for signage.

“If you wanted to have large signs, and they might be large digital signs, we would allow that within [this] particular zoning,” he said. “It does not drastically change things. What it really does is allow for that whole general area, that has anything to do with the arena district, to have the same zoning and the same types of opportunities.”
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However, one resident who attended the meeting Wednesday night says the move might open the door for the neighbourhood to become flooded with bars and clubs.

“I think it is something that we have to be careful of going forward,” said Derrick Forsythe. “It is important that we don’t compromise the quality of life for the people that already live there.”

“Nobody has mentioned to me yet when enough is enough – when it comes to the number of bars in the area,” he continued. “I would like to see if there are any studies done on when you hit that tipping point. Because we would like to have, I think, a good balance of things in there.”

“I’m not sure the people in downtown Edmonton want to have a Whyte Avenue north in and around the arena.”

Of the two areas to be changed, the Greyhound Bus Station falls in a heritage zone, leaving some residents concerned that the proposal might be helping to slowly chip away at Edmonton’s history.

“When you put an arena, or some major institution like that, into a neighbourhood, it is going to change the nature of the neighbourhood,” said Jon Hall, who lives across the street from where the proposed changes could occur.

“My concerns are that we protect the historic look and feel of the heritage area,” he said. “If we take half a block out of the heritage area, and provide the opportunity to make it look modern, it will disrupt the look and the feel of the whole area.”

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But that idea might not be compatible with what planners have in mind.

“The Greyhound, right now, is not necessarily the highest and best use of that site in terms of its ultimate potential,” said Simon O’Byrne, an urban planner at Stantec.

O’Byrne says that both the parking lot and the Greyhound bus station should be exchanged for businesses that promote neighbourhood vibrancy. That means retail stores.

“So we are saying the minimum amount of retail is going to be 60 per cent,” he said. “We know we won’t be able to achieve urban vibrancy without a lot of retail at ground floor, because that provides the animation between the public realm, the pedestrian, and what is going on inside.”

“We want it to be a place that people can meet most of their needs almost within a few feet of where they live. That would be the ultimate end goal that we desire here.”

The proposal will eventually make its way to city council, where a decision could be made as early as September.

With files from Ross Neitz