On the agenda: OP12, George Spady, six rezonings

· The Pulse

This week, council meets virtually to discuss many items that were postponed in the wake of the attack on city hall in late January.

There is a public hearing scheduled for Feb. 20 and a city council meeting scheduled for Feb. 21 with a continuation scheduled for Feb. 23.

Here are key items on the agenda:

  • Administration says council's request for it to find $60 million in savings and $240 million in budget redirection in the 2023-2026 budget, a project known as OP12, will require "significant" cuts to services. A report, scheduled for the Feb. 21 council meeting, explains that while the entire expenditure budget is $3.5 billion, much of it can't be reallocated. Only about $1.5 billion of that budget can be reduced, and the goal of reallocating $240 million means a 5% cut to the remaining budget. "As the scope of expenses available for reallocation decreases, it becomes more challenging to find viable options for reallocation, forcing administration and council to make even more difficult decisions," the report reads. This information is being prepared ahead of the spring supplemental budget adjustment, when council will vote on any cuts or reallocations. So far, administration has identified $130.8 million that could be reallocated — through changing service levels for community sandboxes, reducing funding for corporate initiatives, and restraint when hiring, among other changes. For the rest, administration presents options like cutting funds to the Edmonton Heritage Council, reducing public engagement that is not legally required, and increasing fees to book sports fields. Administration also has presented an idea to sell Edmonton Transit Service merch. The hosts of Speaking Municipally talked about it all in Episode 249.
  • The public hearing agenda on Feb. 20 includes six rezonings for taller buildings — and in some cases, more housing units — in redeveloping neighbourhoods, all using zones introduced in the recently-passed zoning bylaw renewal. Averton wants to rezone a set of properties in Oliver at 103 Avenue and 123 Street, increasing the maximum height from 16 to 65 metres. Due to the size of the properties, the city said the developer could build one tower of up to 20 storeys or two towers of up to 12 storeys on one property, and one 10-storey tower on the other. The same developer wants to rezone a mostly vacant lot on 116 Street just south of 104 Avenue in Oliver to allow for a 20-storey building. Three single-family homes in Queen Mary Park could be demolished to make way for an eight-storey building with 22 units of housing if council approves the rezoning. A rezoning in Rideau Park in the strip mall that houses the Whitemud Library would increase allowable heights and allow housing. Residents can share thoughts about the applications at the public hearing on Feb. 20.
  • The George Spady Society is looking to move its medically-assisted detoxification centre to a new location beside the Jasper Place Transit Centre. The social service has submitted a rezoning application for 15625 Stony Plain Road NW. Medical detox is already an approved use for the property, but the George Spady Society is applying to increase the amount of floor area allowed for medical purposes. Ward Nakota Isga Coun. Andrew Knack told Taproot the west end lacks many social supports for vulnerable people living in the area. "Many of us have heard the same stories — those individuals experiencing homelessness aren't necessarily feeling comfortable going into the downtown core, and that their network, their community is in the west end," Knack said. "Even though the services they might need to access aren't available in the west end, they've been more likely to stay in the west end."
The John Fry Sports Pavilion is pictured, showing its awning that has the title "Sports Park" written on it.

One of the options administration is presenting to council to meet OP12 is to increase fees to book sports fields. (Supplied)

Here are some other agenda items:

  • Council is set to vote on the Oliver neighbourhood's new name on Feb. 21. Council's executive committee recommended changing the neighbourhood name to Wîhkwêntôwin ᐄᐧᐦᑫᐧᐣᑑᐃᐧᐣ, and applying that name to community assets like the arena, pool, and park accordingly. It also recommended the future "The Yards/116 St. LRT Stop" on the Valley Line West be renamed to "Wîhkwêntôwin ᐄᐧᐦᑫᐧᐣᑑᐃᐧᐣ/116 St. LRT Stop." The name means "circle of friends" in Cree and was chosen by an Indigenous renaming committee. City council's executive committee recommended the changes take effect on Jan. 1, 2025. Ward O-day'min Coun. Anne Stevenson enthusiastically endorses the change. "Not only does it reflect the best of what the neighbourhood is, this proposed new name has the potential to lead the community towards a better future by valuing local Indigenous language," she said in a letter of support.
  • An independent review recommends the city considers engaging people earlier during the construction of capital projects. The major capital project review, scheduled to go to council on Feb. 23, also recommends developing consistent quality performance measures. Further recommendations are to change what is defined as a major capital project, by changing the dollar amount from $20 million to $100 million, and increasing the policy threshold on public-private partnerships from $30 million to $500 million. The review found the city establishes effective oversight, has project management and delivery methods that are aligned with industry best practices, and is fair and transparent when procuring delivery partners. The report also lists the major delays in the construction of the Valley Line Southeast LRT, including delays after crews discovered concrete during the Tawatinâ Bridge construction.
  • Cantiro wants to change the direct control zone for its West Block development at 142 Street and Stony Plain Road. The development is underway with one building finished. Cantiro hopes to decrease the height of one of the future phases of the project from 45 to 23 metres, while increasing the height of another future building from 15 to 23 metres. The total amount of floor area and number of housing units would remain the same, according to a report that is set to go to a public hearing on Feb. 20. The setback for the building that would be taller is being increased to ensure compatibility with the surrounding single-family residential neighbourhood. The developer is also requesting more commercial opportunities be allowed in the development, including cannabis stores, which drew the ire of a handful of residents who oppose the use.
  • Council is set to consider the updated affordable housing strategy at a council meeting on Feb. 21. As part of the proposed plan, the city would create a landlord registry and research better tenant protections. When the plan was last discussed at a community and public services committee meeting on Jan. 15, council members asked administration to revisit past research on affordable housing needs and involve people with lived experience. Councillors also asked for a report further breaking down the housing needs of people with low and very low incomes and the affordable housing available to them.
  • Council is set to vote on whether it will forgive nearly $1.2 million in unpaid taxes from Explore Edmonton. According to a report, Explore Edmonton did not pay taxes on the building it rented in 2021 and 2022 because it assumed it was tax-exempt. Non-profits must apply for tax-exempt status, but the city said the property was being subleased to for-profit businesses and therefore likely would not have been eligible for tax exemption. Nonetheless, executive committee recommended forgiving the taxes at a meeting on Feb. 7.
  • A bylaw amendment would increase the fee to appeal developments to $100, the first change in nearly 30 years. The fee to appeal a residential zoning change or a low-density residential development is currently $37, and the fee for stop orders, and subdivision, high-density residential, or commercial development appeals is $72. The city said these fees are low compared to other municipalities, which are as high as $3,500 in St. Albert. The bylaw amendment would also increase the maximum term length for subdivision and development appeal board from nine to 12 years. Administration said up to half of the current members could be leaving the board in the next two years, and that extending the term length would mean newer members would be better mentored and supported by the more experienced members.

Meetings stream live on YouTube on the Chamber channel and River Valley Room channel.