City halts project to protect Glenora's character and starts city-wide strategy

· The Pulse

The city has decided to stop work on a project that could have added even stricter development criteria in Glenora that, according to the city, would help "conserve the unique character" of the downtown-adjacent neighbourhood through "sensitive development."

Council's urban planning committee made the decision at a March 19 meeting.

The Glenora Heritage Character Area Rezoning project started in 2019 but the city paused it in 2021. Now, in a report, the city said it sees developing and implementing a heritage places strategy for the whole city as a higher priority than doing so only in Glenora.

That position has not sat well with Wendy Antoniuk of the Old Glenora Conservation Association. Antoniuk said what's proposed will not protect Glenora.

"(This policy decision) will mean the destruction of more heritage homes, and once they're gone there's nothing that can be done," Antoniuk told Taproot. "Currently, what happens is somebody buys a property, and they usually tear down a house, cut down all the trees, so more and more of that — we'll lose our urban (tree) canopy."

The city's inventory of historic resources lists 132 properties in Glenora, the largest concentration in the city. Three are designated as municipal historic resources. Buildings on the historic inventory "merit conservation" but aren't legally protected from demolition; meanwhile, those designated as municipal historic resources are, the city said.

Glenora's last municipal historic resource was designated in 2007 and there are currently no applications for more. In the last eight years, 12 properties on the inventory were demolished. The city said it anticipates this trend to continue.

Heritage advocates say Glenora, particularly the area that surrounds Alexander Circle, is an example of a garden city suburb, with its dense trees and curved streets.

The conservation association says heritage experts consider Glenora the best-preserved example of a garden city suburb in Canada. The garden city movement Wikipedia page and the International Garden Cities Institute's page about garden cities in Canada do not mention Glenora. Instead, Walkerville, Kapuskasing, and Don Mills in Ontario, and Churchill Park in Newfoundland, are featured.

Research identified three areas encompassing the part of Glenora south of Stony Plain Road as potential heritage character areas. Lynn Odynski, who also represents the conservation association, told the city committee that the areas themselves, not just individual homes, need to be protected. "If you allow big structures to come forward on the property and obliterate the ribbon of green that reflects the river valleys, you will obliterate the garden city streetscape," Odynski said. "If there is no guarantee that will remain, people are not going to designate their homes (as municipal historic resources)."

Alexander Circle, a park in Glenora.

Glenora, in particular Alexander Circle, is an example of a garden city suburb. (City of Edmonton)

Glenora would not be the first neighbourhood to gain special zoning to protect character. Similar designations exist elsewhere in Edmonton, like in a portion of Westmount. That area is under a direct development control provision that mandates certain design principles. New developments in this area must have a front porch, a gabled or hipped roof, and windows no larger than two metres tall by one metre wide, among other regulations.

Antoniuk wonders why Glenora can't have similar regulations.

"I realize (Glenora) is a privileged area because it's close to downtown and the cost of the properties are expensive, but that doesn't mean that there should be no consideration for it," she said. "I know it's probably not popular. But why does Glenora not have any protection? None."

Antoniuk said she is disappointed that time and money were wasted on researching the now-abandoned character area. But the city said the work will inform the updated heritage places strategy, and it may return to neighbourhood-specific protections in the future.

Glenora is ripe for redevelopment thanks to its location and other factors. The city is targeting mature neighbourhoods for infill construction and census data shows that Glenora's population has been declining or flat since the 1970s.

Antoniuk said the character area wouldn't have prevented increased density in the form of basement suites and garden suites, but she does take issue with apartment buildings. "A lot of (Glenora) will be zoned for apartments, and with that, all of the trees will disappear because you can't keep an apartment building going right to the sidewalk and have the trees survive on the boulevard," she said.

Erik Backstrom, a senior urban planner with the city, told the committee the updated heritage places strategy will outline priorities for maintaining heritage places, which may later inform rezoning for Glenora or other neighbourhoods.

"There's pressing climate change and reconciliation issues that sort of transcend neighbourhoods that we want to address, and I think the strategy will just help us to find the right balance there between those bigger global issues and local issues, such as we've heard from Glenora, which are legitimate," he said.

At the committee meeting, Coun. Andrew Knack, whose ward includes Glenora, said he supports developing a heritage places strategy, as it allows the city to broaden what heritage means. But he is concerned that the strategy isn't clear on how the character of individual neighbourhoods might be protected. "Hopefully the heritage places strategy gets us there, but I feel like between now and then there's still a lot of uncertainty."

Administration recommends the project be funded through the heritage resources reserve's existing budget, because doing otherwise would require an "insupportable reallocation" of funds away from council priorities. City staff also recommends the strategy be scaled down because the previous vision would have put the reserve in a negative balance. The city said this isn't ideal because when a house is designated as a municipal historic resource, the owner is meant to receive funding from the reserve to rehabilitate and maintain the property. There are currently 30 agreements in which the city hasn't paid the full amount to the owner of a municipal heritage resource.

Administration said it will monitor changes to the heritage character of Glenora and reassess resuming the project after the heritage places strategy provides direction.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the parts of Glenora that were being discussed as needing heritage protection.