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October 9, 2018

Edmonton city council grapples with looming question of how many towers is too many

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Edmonton city council’s history of approving nearly every tower it sees is dangerous and unsustainable, two community leagues are warning as councillors sit down to review yet another request.

In the past nine years, council has only said no to one tower rezoning request. And even that, Grandin’s The View, was recently approved on the second attempt. But does council understand how approving that 23-storey building for one two-lot site is going to affect land values and developer demands in the rest of the downtown core, wonder leaders of the city’s two most population-dense neighbourhoods.

“Market demand is finite,” said Downtown Edmonton Community League president Chris Buyze. “There just isn’t any way all these towers are going to move forward.”

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Buyze and neighbouring Oliver Community League president Lisa Brown penned a joint letter to voice their concerns. Both are worried if council allows such tall towers on each site, developers will quickly build them and saturate the market, possibly sterilizing many other vacant lots for decades to come.

Council must do what’s best for the neighbourhood, said Buyze. “Do we really want to have just one or two (tall towers) or spread that increase out a bit?”

On Wednesday, council will be asked again to approve new zoning, this time to nearly double the height allowance for two towers at 100 Avenue and 104 Street. The existing zoning would allow up to 29 storeys.

Instead, Langham Developments wants to build two towers, one 56 storeys and the other 48 storeys. It would make space for 700 new units on what’s now a gravel parking lot and, in return, create a public courtyard and ensure 29 of the units can accommodate families.

Most cities plan neighbourhoods by first looking at how many new residents are expected to want homes in a given area, said Avi Friedman, a noted speaker on architecture and housing at McGill University. Then planners work with the community to determine how those people can be accommodated in a way that’s best for the city and neighbourhood.

That sets height and density limits in the master plan. Then, if a developer wants to build more than the limit, it needs to present a good case to convince the regulator the increased density will create an equal public benefit.

“There’s no doubt that if you give the developer permission to go taller, they will make more money,” said Friedman in a recent interview.

The debate in Edmonton is more often about what harm the increased height would do on a site-by-site basis. Council members pointed to the visual impact of a 23-storey tower metres from an existing four-storey condo building when they turned down The View the first time.

Keep reading in the Edmonton Journal


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