On the agenda: Downtown residential, permitting parking, transit changes

· The Pulse

This week's agenda includes a discussion of downtown construction incentives, a program to address non-compliant surface parking lots, and upcoming changes to the transit network.

There is a community and public services committee meeting scheduled for March 18, an urban planning committee meeting scheduled for March 19, and an executive committee meeting scheduled for March 20. There is an audit committee meeting scheduled for March 22.

Here are key items on the agenda:

  • City staff said economic conditions do not support creating an incentive program for downtown residential construction, including office-to-residential conversions. The city calculated a grant program that would mimic a property tax freeze, equating to approximately $40 per square foot — less than the $75 to $100 per square foot requested by developers. A program budget of $33.6 million could fund about 1,000 units, the city said, but added it's difficult to prove such incentives spur development. Councillors asked administration to analyze whether it could take funds from the Downtown Community Revitalization Levy for an incentive program. The city said that's a risky option, and would mean projects already promised funding through the levy would be delayed. Executive committee is scheduled to discuss the reports at a meeting on March 20.
  • Administration has designed a program that would permit owners of non-compliant surface parking lots downtown to keep the lots in exchange for investing in upgrades. A 2023 report found the majority of surface parking lots downtown operate without a permit. In a report due for an urban planning committee meeting on March 19, the city said the 2010 Capital City Downtown Plan made it difficult to create new parking lots but did not address existing lots. The plan also denied existing owners the means to obtain a permit, the city said. The proposed program would add a new use to the zoning bylaw to allow non-compliant surface parking lots downtown and mandate landscaping, lighting, and other design features. The city would then educate owners about the program, and potentially shut down lots if they do not comply with the program after two years.
  • The city said it will add a new bus route, boost bus service in newer neighbourhoods, and improve routes for young people in 2024. The bus network service plan update, which is scheduled to be presented at an urban planning committee meeting on March 19, details specific routes targeted for investment. Administration has also identified six routes that may see service reduction due to low ridership, pending further analysis. An update on changes to transit infrastructure is also set to be presented at the meeting. These changes include dedicated bus lanes, and changes to traffic lights and signs, to give preference to transit. The city said it has identified seven areas that would benefit from this, including stretches of Jasper Avenue, Whyte Avenue, 118 Avenue, and Hewes Way.
An On Demand Transit bus in downtown Edmonton.

Councillors are scheduled to hear about planned changes to the transit network at an urban planning committee meeting on March 19. (Stephanie Swensrude)

Here are some other items on the agenda:

  • The Edmonton Transit Service needs to replace 322 buses — one-third of its fleet — by 2026, but only has funding to replace 22 of them, according to a report scheduled to go to urban planning committee on March 19. The service needs $240 million to replace the 300 additional vehicles that are due for renewal during the 2023-2026 budget cycle. City administration said council could choose to replace the necessary buses, thereby lowering the age of the fleet, which could lead to about $9 million in annual savings, as older vehicles tend to cost more to maintain. Council could also choose to lease buses, but the city won't have the debt capacity to do so until 2029, possibly making the option unfeasible for now, administration said.
  • Nearly 70% of the calls to Edmonton Fire Rescue Services were for medical events in 2023, an 82% increase from 2018, according to a report due for a community and public services committee meeting. Calls for drug overdose and poisoning have increased by nearly 800% since 2018, and 47% since 2022. The report outlines the service's plan to reduce and refocus its medical call response.
  • The city is considering introducing an annual fee of $120, among other changes, for its residential parking program in areas with high parking demand. The existing program has not been updated since 1978, according to a report scheduled to be presented at an urban planning committee meeting on March 19. Under the new program, a maximum of two permits per household would be issued, except for student permits. Parking restrictions would be in place from 8am to 9pm from Monday to Saturday, and 10am to 5pm on Sundays, with two-hour visitor parking. Those parking without a valid permit could face a fine of up to $100.
  • The city recommends awarding $2.3 million to the Métis Capital Housing Corporation to develop 36 new units for Indigenous seniors at below-market rates through the Indigenous Housing Grant Program. The organization proposes building a new lodge at the site of its former Nihgi Métis Seniors Lodge at 11935 65 Street NW that will have a common dining area and staff to operate bingo, group exercise, and cultural activities. Executive committee will decide whether council should award the grant at a meeting on March 20.
  • Administration investigated three substantiated reports of misconduct in 2023, including one of a bus driver who was skimming fares from passengers. The driver resigned and was charged with theft, according to the Office of the City Auditor's 2023 annual report, scheduled to be presented at an audit committee meeting on March 22. Another report describes that the city completed about half of the city auditor's recommendations on time in 2023, and that there are 16 recommendations due in the next six months.
  • City administration recommends ceasing work to rezone parts of Glenora to preserve the character of the neighbourhood. The Glenora Heritage Character Area Rezoning project started in 2019 to protect the 132 historic resources in the neighbourhood. The city said a higher priority project is to implement a heritage places strategy, as discussed during the fall 2023 supplemental operating budget adjustment. Administration recommends the project to be funded through the Heritage Resources Reserve, and that it be scaled down to prevent the reserve from going into a negative balance. Administration said it will monitor changes to the heritage character of Glenora and reassess resuming the project after the heritage places strategy provides direction.
  • The Fort Edmonton Management Company is asking city council for a loan to offset what it has to pay back to the Canadian Revenue Agency for wage subsidies it was ineligible for. In 2020, 2021, and 2022, the company that operates and manages Fort Edmonton Park received nearly $1.5 million from the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidies program, but later realized it was not eligible. To pay the loan back to the city, Fort Edmonton said it will raise fees and introduce a new "immersive and interactive multimedia guest experience." Executive committee is scheduled to discuss the issue at a meeting on March 20.
  • In 2023, council asked administration to look into creating a 2SLGBTQIA+ Action Plan to address rising hate. The city has now developed an engagement plan aimed toward developing recommendations that will see it create an advisory committee. The plan is scheduled to be presented at a community and public services committee meeting on March 18.

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