Affordability seen as key to Blatchford achieving mission

· The Pulse

The high cost of the few homes that have been built so far at Blatchford is cause for concern, say the hosts of Taproot's civic affairs podcast.

But Speaking Municipally's Mack Male and Troy Pavlek are not as impatient with the development as Ward pihêsiwin's Coun. Tim Cartmell, who noted in a May 9 blog post that 2,750 residential units should have been built there by now according to the Blatchford Business Case approved by city council in 2014, but just 32 have connected to the Blatchford Renewable Energy Utility so far.

That gap is worrisome, but it's important to remember the big picture, said Male.

"Blatchford was never going to be built in five or six years," he said on Episode 178. "This was always going to be a multi-decade build. Should we be questioning the pace? Yes. And making sure that we're on track? Yes. But I don't know that we should be throwing everything out for Blatchford quite yet."

Cartmell also noted that "there is nothing affordable about these homes," with prices for townhouses ranging from about $600,000 to $900,000. That affordability angle was a bigger deal to our city hall observers.

"If we think that developments like Blatchford and infill in general are going to be a key part of how we bring City Plan to life, it's really problematic that it's not accessible to more people," said Male.

At those prices, it's not clear that Blatchford will attract families who are sensitive to the market forces that would encourage active transportation and transit use over driving and parking. "Part of the dream of Blatchford is ... you can have a no-car household with bicycles and access to the LRT and walking. If people living in Blatchford don't adopt that en masse, I think it is fair to say that the experiment to some extent has failed," Pavlek said.

Cartmell suggested changes such as making developed land available to builders below market value, partnering with private developers, and cutting back the district energy utility. His motion to ask administration to prepare a report on Blatchford's development was postponed until the week of May 24.

The old air-traffic control tower at Blatchford framed by the new community entrance

Of the 536 acres at Blatchford, only 87 are in active development, Coun. Tim Cartmell wrote in a blog post outlining his concerns about the project. (City of Edmonton)

The slow pace of development is preventing the city from realizing the property tax revenue that would offset the millions the city has investment in the development, Cartmell said, arguing that the city has a "major budget crisis" coming this year and cannot afford to keep pumping money into Blatchford or move at the pace necessary to help it reach the point where it approaches paying for itself.

Council got a preview of the fiscal situation on May 9, which indicated a significant tax increase will be necessary to maintain current services. This also throws into question whether the city can afford to improve snow clearing as it has said it wants to.

"To achieve the metrics on snow clearing that council wants requires an astronomical increase in taxes," said Pavlek. "To achieve a palatable service level requires an almost doubling of our snow removal budget, which can be anywhere from $40 million to $55 million on any given year."

Hear more about that, as well as Mayor Amarjeet Sohi's first "state of the city" address and the curious correlation between tweets about transit safety and council agenda items on the police budget on the May 13 episode of the podcast.