Surplus U of A land tapped for future development profits

· The Pulse
in the Business Roundup

After years of waiting for the green light to develop surplus land, the University of Alberta Properties Trust will seek city council's approval in 2022 for its first residential redevelopment plan and begin consultations on turning farmland into a new south Edmonton neighbourhood.

The goal of the arm's-length land trust is to generate revenues to fund teaching and research at the U of A, which faces increased financial pressure from the provincial government. It's modelled after a University of British Columbia land trust that was dubbed a river of gold.

Recently appointed CEO Greg Dewling said in an email interview it is too early to forecast how much the trust will earn for the U of A. "The expectations are high; we are working very hard to meet those expectations," he told Taproot.

The land trust was established in 2015 but only received provincial government approval to develop specific parcels of land in 2020.

"Michener Park is the first of several properties that the trust will develop in the coming years," Dewling said. "Stantec was engaged in 2020 to assist the trust in planning and rezoning the entire parcel. Two public engagement sessions have been held in 2021 which informed the design and submission to the city."

Area residents have been told the former 380-unit student housing site bordering South Campus will grow into a mixed-use area of 750 to 950 low- to high-density units, with commercial space anchored by a grocery store. "We anticipate the project will take five to seven years to complete. Market conditions will dictate the uptake of parcels and absorption of homes," Dewling said.

University of Alberta Land Trust map shows proposed development sites

Plans to develop Michener Park and the West 240 will move ahead in 2022. University of Alberta Properties Trust

The land trust is also moving ahead in the new year on the West 240, a 220-acre parcel acquired in stages early in the U of A's history and used for decades for its agricultural research.

"West 240 is a prime infill development for the city of Edmonton," Dewling said, adding that extensive stakeholder engagement will take place as planning proceeds in 2022.

Sandwiched between the smaller neighbourhoods of Landsdowne and Grandview Heights and bordered by the Whitemud Ravine and 122nd Street, the property is bigger than the City of Edmonton's Exhibition Lands site and 40% as large as the massive Blatchford airport redevelopment site, which has a target population of 30,000 residents.

"The trust will act very similar to a private developer. Land is not available for sale, rather land will be available for long-term lease. The effective impact is similar to a traditional land sale," Dewling said.

At an open house last summer, the U of A said planning will be guided by smart growth principles and social, environmental, architectural, and economic goals. The neighbourhood will include a full range of housing types, including single-family attached and detached, low-rise townhomes, and multi-family properties. There will possibly also be retail and commercial mixed-use opportunities.

With easy access to the ravine and river valley, South Campus LRT, and recreational facilities, the West 240 properties are expected to generate interest when they are put on the market.

A vacant 31-foot-wide lot in Grandview Heights, located across the street from the development land parcel is listed at $469,000 while a new skinny home on the same block is priced at $1.2 million.