Coming up at City Council: April 11-15, 2016

No doubt the discussion about separating trains and vehicles on the Metro Line will get a lot of attention this week, but Council is also going to be discussing the possible Municipal Development Corporation and the possibility of becoming a United Nations Safe City. There’s also some interesting details on vacant land, heritage buildings, and the neighbourhood renewal program.

City Hall

Here’s my look at what Council will be discussing in the week ahead.

Meetings this week

You can always see the latest City Council meetings on ShareEdmonton.

Municipal Development Corporation

This report aims to address Council’s questions about establishing a Municipal Development Corporation (MDC) using the “super light” model that was previously presented. Here are the highlights:

  • Council does not directly control the City’s corporations but they do sit as representatives for the shareholder. They could control the activities of the MDC by including restrictions in the incorporation documents, by exerting shareholder control, and by including restrictions in any agreements made between the City and the MDC (such as the sale of land).
  • An alternative to establishing the MDC is to start a “New Dedicated City Administration program” (DCA) that would try to achieve the same objectives. Such a program could be established over 4 years for $1.7 million less than the MDC and could be setup more quickly. But such a program would lack the flexibility of the MDC.
  • The MDC would require $750,000 to startup plus $1.25 million per year in operating costs.
  • The DCA would require $473,000 to startup plus $780,000 per year in operating costs.
  • “Industry has strongly supported the concept of a business advisory committee struck under authority of the City Manager to help activate the potential of surplus City lands.” Additionally, the local land development industry “has consistently expressed strong opposition to the establishment by the City of a for-profit Municipal Development Corporation.”

The report notes that “economic conditions in 2016 are dramatically different than prevailing conditions in early 2015” when the initial model was developed and that means the City could see a reduced rate of return. Another challenge is that “the distinction between mandates for the proposed for-profit Municipal Development Corporation Superlight and the more recently proposed public-benefit Community Development Corporation is not clear.”

Furthermore:

“The mandate for the proposed Municipal Development Corporation…has been complicated by the emergence of several related development ‘questions’ that have yet to be addressed by Council, including dispensation of the Edmonton Research Park and West Rossdale, as well as uncertainty regarding the future of Northlands Park. The Municipal Government Act renewal may also introduce new legislative requirements that could affect the Municipal Development Corporation that are unknown at this time.”

The City plans to create a business advisory committee under the City Manager and recommends that Council postpone any decision about the MDC until a future Executive Committee meeting at which Council will presented with more information.

Metro Line crossing Princess Elizabeth Avenue

Council will consider four options for separating trains from vehicles where the Metro Line crosses Princess Elizabeth Avenue and 106 Street. These options range in cost from $35 million to $95 million and could be included in funding for a future extension of the Metro Line.

  • Option 1, at a cost of $51 million, would be an elevated LRT crossing with NAIT station moving slightly northwest after being out-of-service for 6-12 months.
  • Option 2, at a cost of $95 million, would be an underground LRT crossing with NAIT station moving further northwest after being out-of-service for at least 12 months.
  • Option 3, at a cost of $35-67 million, would be an at-grade LRT crossing with a possible lowering of Princess Elizabeth Avenue below the LRT. NAIT station would be out-of-service for 2-3 months and would move further northwest, with a second station added on the Kingsway side of Princess Elizabeth Avenue.
  • Option 4, at a cost of $88 million, would be an elevated LRT crossing with NAIT station moving much further northwest after being out-of-service for 6-12 months, plus a second station would be added on the Kingsway side of Princess Elizabeth Avenue.

NAIT LRT Station

I like the idea of adding a second station at Kingsway, but it seems silly to be discussing this now considering the line is still not even fully operational. It seems that Kingsway Mall is on board with the idea of adding a new station on their site, however.

Operating Costs of Vacant City Properties

Lots of interesting information here. The City owns approximately 9,300 properties, 1,015 of which are categorized as vacant or undeveloped. A little over half of those vacant properties are held for things like parks or drainage. The remaining 454 properties total 335 acres and the estimated total cost to service them is approximately $56,950 per year.

About 75% of the vacant properties are located in residential areas, 17% are in commercial areas, and 8% are in industrial areas. Roughly 90% of the vacant properties are under one acre in size.

The Open Data Catalogue includes a vacant land inventory which includes both public and private land but not that it is a snapshot from May 2014. The data lens view is a good way to explore the data.

City Heritage Building Inventory

According to this report, the City currently owns over 900 facilities (everything from arenas and libraries to parking structures and pedestrian bridges) which as of 2015 are summarized as follows:

  • 20% are in good condition
  • 74% are in fair condition
  • 6% are in poor condition

A total of $153 million was approved for the 2015-2018 Capital Budget for Building and Facility Rehabilitation, which will support approximately 60 facilities.

Rossdale Generating Station
Rossdale Generating Station, photo by Kurt Bauschardt

Of those 900+ facilities, 57 are considered historically significant (though just 18 are registered and designated as Municipal Historic Resources). Of those, 48 are buildings and 9 are cemeteries and monuments. Here’s the status of 27 of those 48 buildings (the rest lack a recent condition assessment):

  • 45% are in good condition
  • 30% are in fair condition
  • 25% are in poor condition

The City estimates it would cost approximately $27.4 million to rehabilitate those 27 buildings. You can see the full list of heritage assets here.

Neighbourhood Renewal Program Audit

From the auditor’s report:

“The Transportation Neighbourhood Renewal Program repairs and replaces streets, sidewalks, and other infrastructure in Edmonton neighbourhoods. The Program was initiated in 2009 with a goal of having all Edmonton neighbourhoods in acceptable condition by the end of 2038 – 30 years.”

It wasn’t until 1987 that “significant renewal work” took place in Edmonton’s neighbourhoods. A total of 52 neighbourhoods were renewed between 1987 and 2008, but in 2009 “it was estimated that 174 neighbourhoods were in need of renewal.” The dedicated tax levy was established that year to try to address the problem.

The report finds that overall “the Transportation Neighbourhood Renewal Program has the appropriate structures and supports in place to achieve its long-term objective” and that “residents are reasonably satisfied with the Program.” The auditor made four recommendations to improve the program, all of which the City has accepted.

Other interesting items

Wrap-up

You can keep track of City Council on Twitter using the #yegcc hashtag, and you can listen to or watch any Council meeting live online. You can read my previous coverage of the 2013-2017 City Council here.