Coming up at City Council: July 4-8, 2016

There’s just two weeks left for Council until the summer break which runs from July 15 through August 12.

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.

MGA Review Update – City of Edmonton Submission

The Government of Alberta introduced Bill 21, the Modernized Municipal Government Act, on May 31, 2016 and is conducting public consultation over the summer. The City has been involved in the review of the MGA since the process began back in 2013. And it sounds like they have a lot of feedback:

  • “Bill 21 failed to fully address the City’s requests in several areas as was formally requested by the City through the provincial consultation process.”
  • “Bill 21 was also silent on over 30 policy amendments that were requested by the City over the review process.”
  • “In addition, there are numerous amendments requested directly by Assessment and Taxation that were not addressed in the legislative changes proposed in Bill 21 (or the preceding Bill 20, 2015). These amendments were initially provided Administration-to-Administration in June 2014, at the same time as the City’s Council Approved Municipal Government Act Submission. These amendments are being updated and will be readvanced through the same process.”

To provide feedback to the Province, the City has created a 21 page submission of recommendations ready for Council approval. The document covers recommendations related to governance and administration, assessment and taxation, and planning and development. For instance, the City is looking for “additional municipal taxation powers”, the ability to “establish controlled corporations without Ministerial approval”, and for municipalities to “receive the flexibility to determine the appropriate uses for reserve land within their jurisdiction.”

It is expected that amendments to Bill 21 resulting from the consultation process will be introduced in the Legislature during the fall sitting, and that the bill will pass by the end of the year. The City has created a website discussing the Municipal Government Act Review and outlining its activities related to the process. There are also plans for “a comprehensive communications strategy” that will share the City’s position and will support Councillor communication with constituents.

Chinatown Plan – Economic Development Report Findings

This report and the associated 129 page Chinatown Economic Development Plan provides recommendations and actions from the first phase of the Chinatown Plan development process. It is hoped that a new plan will make it easier to resolve the challenges the area faces.

The Chinatown Economic Development Plan outlines four key strategies:

  • Establish an Economic Development Zone
  • Utilize and Enhance Physical Assets
  • Address Safety and Security
  • Create Destination

As you may know, Edmonton actually has two Chinatowns – the north is the commercial zone while the south is the cultural zone. The report recommends focusing just on Chinatown North to “target resources, investments and implementation activities to build on strengths for a destination that can grow and be promoted to a broader array of visitors.” It is expected that The Quarters will support Chinatown South and the Chinese Garden (in Louise McKinney Riverfront Park).

Edmonton Chinatown Conference
The 97 Street bridge that separates North and South Chinatown

I think it’s safe to say there’s an overall perception that Chinatown “is greatly impacted by the clustering of social service agencies and general social disorder.” The recommendations in the report “call for continued relationship building, partnerships, and exploring other policing or security options that will incrementally improve the perception of the area.” This is not likely to satisfy the business and community leaders in the area.

There are the usual recommendations about branding, creating promotional materials, and building a website to improve tourism and marketing. “Edmonton’s Chinatown is well positioned to deliver a unique authentic cultural experience being proximally located to additional upcoming major attractions within the downtown and already offering an array of authentic cultural dining and retail offerings,” the report says.

Curiously, the report calls for the creation of a new organization called the “Chinatown Economic Development Group” to provide governance for the area. It’s true that there is a need “to go beyond established stakeholders to engage in a dialogue about future growth and planning for development” but I’m not sure that yet another group is the right solution. There’s already the City, Chinatown BRZ, Chinese Benevolent Association, Edmonton Chinese Youth Leadership Council, developers, and business owners. Those groups have failed to work together effectively thus far, so is it really realistic to think they can overcome their differences as part of a new organization?

The next step is to undertake phase 2 including the development of the Urban Interface Plan. The goal of that plan is to “resolve the concerns around the 97 Street rail bridge and to decide a location for the Harbin Gate.” Once that report is complete, the final Chinatown Plan will be presented to Council.

Changing Land Economics – Downtown Edmonton

More than 1.8 million square feet of office space is currently under construction in downtown Edmonton. That is “the greatest amount of office space under construction…in more than three decades, and exceeds the 35-year development forecast prepared in 2010.” The population is growing too, and is expected to grow from nearly 9,000 in 2014 to as high as 23,000 in 2036. Since 2010 when the Capital City Downtown Plan was approved, “several re-zonings within Downtown increased the developable floor area capacity by 2.6 million square feet.” The arena and entertainment district is responsible for nearly half of that, with five Direct Control Provisions responsible for the rest.

For this report it’s important to understand what the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is:

“Floor Area Ratio (FAR) represents the total floor area of a building divided by the total area of a lot. It is used to limit the overall mass and intensity of a building or development. As the total buildable area allowed, FAR is used to balance the height and density of the building, controlling the overall mass of the development.”

So a FAR of 1.00 could be a 1,000 square foot building on a 1,000 square foot lot and that building could either be one storey on the entire lot or two storeys with 500 square feet on each floor on half the lot.

As the report outlines, landowners are motivated to puruse additional height and FARs through Direct Control Provisions as this can “significantly increase the value of land to which they apply.” And this increase in value can then be leveraged for financing purposes. But it also has an impact on the perceived opportunity for adjacent lands and can result in rising prices that discourage other developers from entering the market. “This can result in these sites being “frozen” and less likely to be developed or sold to another developer,” the report says. “This phenomenon is a primary reason so few Direct Control sites have developed among those approved prior to the new Downtown Plan in 2010.”

Downtown Sunset

The nut of the report is this paragraph:

“A small number of developments built under Direct Control Provisions with additional floor area height and density may not fundamentally alter the identity and character of a neighbourhood. However, a greater number of Direct Control Provisions with increased floor area opportunity in the McKay Avenue and Warehouse Campus residential neighbourhoods (areas where height and floor area is limited), may diminish the intended outcome for those neighbourhoods.”

Translation? A really tall tower on one site might be appealing for the impact it’ll have on the skyline, for the apparent “prestige” that comes along with height, and for the increased profits and/or reduced financial risks for the developer. But it could also mean that instead of development occurring on multiple sites, only the tall tower goes ahead. Look at it this way: would you rather have three 20-storey towers or one 60-storey tower? For areas like the Warehouse Campus district, definitely the former.

On the other hand, many Direct Control Provisions that produce a significant lift in value get negotiated to ensure there are public good contributions in exchange, like affordable housing, public art, and other contributions to the local economy. The problem is that these negotiations are not formalized in any way. The City is hoping to change that:

“Administration recommends that a comprehensive city-wide policy or framework be developed to formalize the review of the Direct Control Provision process. This framework would include the preparation of pro formas and establishment of a menu of public good contributions based on “lift in value”.”

“Improving the Direct Control Provision review process will provide Administration, project proponents, the development industry, community members, and City Council, with clear and updated understanding of how these applications will be reviewed and expectations to be met.”

Such a framework would take between 12 and 18 months to develop, according to the report. I think a framework to formalize all of this would be great for Edmonton, but let’s not forget that Council can vote against Administration’s recommendations anyway.

Paid Park & Ride

Changes could be coming to LRT Park and Ride lots starting September 1. The recommendation Council will consider includes the following changes:

  • “That up to 50 percent of parking stalls in the LRT Park and Ride parking lots be made available for paid parking.”
  • “That the fee charged for a parking stall at LRT Park and Ride parking lots be increased from $40 to $50 per month (plus GST).”
  • “That paid hourly parking stalls be provided at LRT Park and Ride parking lots at a rate reflecting the combined transit fare and local short term parking market rates.”

Currently, free and paid park and ride is available at Clareview, Belvedere, Stadium, and Century Park. Paid parking was introduced in January 2011 and was intended to help offset the maintenance costs of the lots, estimated at $799,000 per year (total). It has proven to be quite popular with waiting lists in place at all four stations – 410 people for Clareview, 220 people for Belvedere, 149 people for Stadium, and a whopping 3,540 people for Century Park.

Century Park Station & Park and Ride
Photo by City of Edmonton

So the recommended changes listed above are meant to deal with this situation. Why not just building more parking at LRT stations? Because that “is contrary to the City’s goal of moving towards more Transit Oriented Developments surrounding LRT stations.” If Council approves the changes, the expected impacts include:

  • “Total paid parking stalls will increase from 556 to 1,978.”
  • “Total free parking stalls will decrease from 3,441 to 1,977.”
  • “Annual paid parking revenue generated will increase from $266,880 to $1,186,800 (Gross revenue increase of $919,920).”

ETS did undertake a survey on this and received over 4,000 responses, but the results didn’t skew one way or the other:

“Results of the survey did not provide a clear direction as the results were mixed, competing and varied, with a group of users that are requesting that the parking lots remain free of charge to ensure transit is affordable and others who are willing to pay for a reserved parking stall to ensure they have a parking spot for a worry-free commute.”

It’s a challenge, no doubt. If Council doesn’t like the recommendation, they could go in one of four other directions. They could make all parking free, they could make even more parking paid, they could choose to building additional lots and parkades, or they could simply decide to make no changes.

In related news, Northlands has announced it will open 654 of its parking stalls to paying transit riders for $75/month.

Integrated Infrastructure Services Update

The Integrated Infrastructure Services department, first announced in October 2015, “represents a fundamental shift in how the City will develop and deliver capital projects.” This report provides an overview of why the department was created and what it will achieve for citizens.

integrated infrastructure services

One of the first things the City did after forming the new department was to develop vision, mission, and values statements to guide decision making. “We inspire trust among citizens and Council in our commitment and ability to deliver quality infrastructure,” reads the vision. Can you tell the department was formed in the aftermath of the Metro Line, 102 Avenue Bridge, and Walterdale Bridge fiascos?

Along with those statements comes a new business model, which consists of seven principles: Agency, Integration, Sustainability, Comprehensive planning, Never content with project management expertise, Continous improvement, and Role clarity is the key to accountability. The report highlights a number of improvements that have come as a result of this new model, using words like “better”, “greater”, and “improved”, but there are no measurable data points to be found.

The department now contains five branches:

  • Infrastructure Planning and Design
  • Infrastructure Delivery
  • Business Planning and Support
  • Building Great Neighbourhoods
  • LRT Delivery

The City is “actively recruiting” for all five branch manager positions. The goal is to have the new organizational model up and running for Q1 2017.

So what have they accomplished and what’s still to come?

“Over the last six months, there has been a focus on improvements in transparent communication with City Council, management of strategic risks, and enhancing relationships with industry partners. Transformation work in the next half of 2016 will be focused on developing more details within the organizational structure and establishing core department processes.”

There could also be changes to the capital budgeting process, with more detail expected in Q4 2016:

“Budget decisions supported by a greater level of detail in design will require an additional investment in projects at an earlier stage, similar to the recent approach to the Lewis Farms Recreation Centre project, where budget was provided to complete a portion of design to inform a future capital budget request.”

It sounds like the new department remains a work in progress, but the City certainly feels as though it is on the right track.

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.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #209

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

Alberta First Responders Radio Communications System (AFRRCS) 4991
Alberta First Responders Radio Communications System, photo by Premier of Alberta

And here is some slightly less local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for June 26, 2016

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Former Greyhound Station
What’s left of the former downtown Greyhound station

Upcoming Events

Bay/Enterprise Square LRT Station
Bay/Enterprise Square LRT Station

The beautiful symmetry of downtown Edmonton’s newest signs

It’s probably just a coincidence that the signage on Rogers Place went up the same week as Melcor and Make Something Edmonton’s Wall of Encouragement did, but I think there’s a beautiful symmetry in that. With Rogers Place we have a shiny beacon of the megaproject-based transformation of downtown Edmonton, and with the “take a risk” words we see a physical reflection of the many smaller but no less important changes that are taking place. We need both.

Wall of Encouragement

Melcor and Make Something Edmonton collaborated with local designer Clay Lowe to install the new mural on the north facing wall of the 100 St. Place building. It reads, “Take a risk. It’s the most Edmonton thing you can do.” This is straight out of the Make Something Edmonton brand book, and while some see the mural as mere propaganada and a missed opportunity for “real art”, I like it.

“Risk taking is a fibre embedded in Edmontonians. It’s an entrepreneurial tick that each of us has, but only some of us listen to.”

The new mural was installed almost exactly five years after Todd Babiak spoke at Pecha Kucha Night 10 about “the wall” and interventions. He was referring to a different Melcor wall back then (the one behind the Edmonton Journal building) but his intent was always to impact more than the view out his window. Five years later, Make Something Edmonton carries the torch forward with partners like Melcor.

Wall of Encouragement

You can get a great view of the new mural from Churchill Square and the Tix on the Square building.

“Our aim is not only to encourage our citizens to take action on a project of their own, but also to challenge our fellow building owners to join us in treating empty walls as canvases for colour and inspiration.”

I hope this does indeed inspire some building owners to look at their exterior walls differently.

Rogers Place

A few blocks away on 104 Avenue and 104 Street, construction on Rogers Place continues at a rapid pace. This week the “Rogers Place” signage started to go up on the west side of the building. It’s one of many milestones as the September 10 public open house approaches:

“With the letters going up, you can really start to see the building look like it does in the renderings,” said Mike Widdifield, Senior Project Manager for PCL.

I see the new arena every single day and I always feel like it is so much smaller than Rexall Place. But maybe that’s just because I’m used to it. From a distance, Rogers Place does indeed dominate the skyline.

Downtown Edmonton

The Rogers Place groundbreaking took place on March 3, 2014 and although it appears that the arena will open on time this fall, the construction won’t end there. The new Stantec Tower, JW Marriott hotel, Legends private residences, and many other projects will keep the area under construction through 2020.

Downtown Sunset

Fewer blank walls and fewer surface parking lots (hiccups notwithstanding), that is downtown Edmonton’s future.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #208

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:


Photo courtesy of CKUA

And here is some slightly less local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for June 19, 2016

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Weekend Strolling
Weekend Strolling, photo by IQRemix

Upcoming Events

New Pedway Bridge
New Pedway Bridge connecting Manulife Place & the Kelly Ramsey Building

Edmonton Food Council Recruitment, What the Truck?!, Metro Edmonton’s Future

Here’s the latest entry in my Edmonton Etcetera series, in which I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. Have feedback? Let me know!

Edmonton Food Council Recruitment

The Edmonton Food Council is seeking four new members for three-year terms beginning in September 2016:

“As a volunteer committee of the City, the Edmonton Food Council’s primary role is to advise and act on matters related to the ongoing implementation of fresh: Edmonton’s Food and Agriculture Strategy. The Edmonton Food Council aims to engage with the community on relevant and timely issues related to food and urban agriculture.”

Open Farm Days 7005
Open Farm Days 2015, photo by Premier of Alberta

I think we’ve had a difficult few years since the council was first established in 2013 but I am excited about the year ahead! We have agreed to focus on food security, have setup a website, and have established a few committees that have been working well together. There have been some big successes over the last couple of years including hens, bees, and the urban agriculture zoning changes, and I think there are lots of great opportunities ahead.

If you think you’d like to join us, you can apply online here. You’ll need your resume and two letters of reference to go along with the application form. The deadline to get everything in is 5pm on Monday, June 20, 2016.

What the Truck?! at Blatchford Tower

After a very successful first event of the season a few weeks ago at Northlands, we’re ready for round two! Our next What the Truck?! event takes place on Saturday, June 18, 2016 from 4-8pm at Blatchford Tower! You can see the event and RSVP on Facebook and you can check out the lineup and menus here.

CYXD - Edmonton City Centre - Last Day of Ops
CYXD – Edmonton City Centre – Last Day of Ops, photo by Jeff Wallace

The event takes place along Airport Road right in front of the old City Centre Airport control tower (see it on Street View here). There won’t be any snow thankfully, but check out that view! This is going to be a fun location because in addition to learning more about the City’s plans for Blatchford, if you bring a donation for Edmonton’s Food Bank, you can go up inside the tower to get a unique look at downtown Edmonton’s skyline.

Admission is free as always, and there’s lots of parking at either the Ramada Hotel on the west side or Aviation Museum on the east side. I hope to see you there!

Metro Edmonton’s Future

Last week the Advisory Panel on Metro Edmonton’s Future released its report. This new group was convened in September by the Metro Mayors Alliance which itself was only formalized over the summer last year. Here are the advisory panel members:

  • Don Lowry – Former President & CEO of EPCOR Utilities
  • Carman McNary – Managing Partner of the Edmonton office of Dentons Canada LLP
  • Stanford Blade – Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Alberta
  • Phyllis Clark – Vice President, Finance and Administration, and CFO at the University of Alberta
  • Salima Ebrahim – Executive Director of the Banff Forum
  • Linda Hughes – 19th Chancellor of the University of Alberta
  • Reg Milley – Former President & CEO of Edmonton Airports
  • Liz O’Neill – Executive Director of Boys and Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters Society of Edmonton & Area
  • Tim Reid – President & CEO of Northlands
  • Andrew Ross – Executive Vice President, Northern Operations, for Clark Builders
  • Brad Stelfox – ALCES Group Founder
  • Paul Whittaker – President & CEO of the Alberta Forest Products Association

The Alliance was established “to support the global competitiveness and future prosperity of communities in the Metro Edmonton area” and the Panel was intended to “provide insight on matters for the region to further consider.” The cost of the panel was $600,000 which will be shared by the nine member municipalities which include Edmonton, Strathcona County, St. Albert, Sturgeon County, Fort Saskatchewan, the City of Leduc, Leduc County, Spruce Grove, and Parkland County. As Paula Simons noted in her column today, that group “represents nine municipalities with 95 per cent of the regional population, and 96 per cent of the regional tax assessment base.”

The report, called Be Ready, Or Be Left Behind, “provides a roadmap for creating a globally competitive, future-ready Edmonton Metro Region.” It highlights three critical systems for the region: economic development, public transit, and land use and infrastructure development. Can’t get much broader than that! At least they said public transit and not simply transportation. The report makes these recommendations:

  • Recommendation 1: Affirm the Metro Mayors Alliance by developing and signing a Memorandum of Understanding that spells out a commitment to plan, decide and act as one Edmonton Metro Region.
  • Recommendation #2: Formalize the commitment to think, plan and act as an Edmonton Metro Region through a legally binding Master Agreement.
  • Recommendation #3: Consistent with the signed Master Agreement, establish the structures needed to create the three key cornerstones of a globally competitive Edmonton Metro Region.
  • Recommendation #3a: Establish and mandate a new entity responsible for regional economic development in the Edmonton Metro Region.
  • Recommendation #3b: Establish and mandate an entity responsible for planning, decision-making and delivering core public transit across the Edmonton Metro Region.
  • Recommendation #3c: Establish a structure with the capacity and authority to facilitate and act upon regional land use planning and regional infrastructure development in the Edmonton Metro Region.

Paula noted that this could become a major election issue next year. And she notes the potential impact of this group on the Capital Region Board:

“The 24-member Capital Region Board, created, somewhat forcibly, by then-premier Ed Stelmach back in 2008, isn’t nimble enough to give metro Edmonton the leadership it needs.”

Now that the report is out, it’ll be up to the nine mayors to do something about it.

You can follow this on Twitter using the hashtag #YEGMetroRegion and/or the shorter #yegmetro as adopted by the local media.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #207

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

Cameras Ready

And here is some slightly less local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

I’m working with Karen on a new approach to local journalism and we’d love for you to join us by becoming a member of Taproot Edmonton.

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for June 12, 2016

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Walterdale Bridge
The new Walterdale Bridge

Upcoming Events

On the Edge
On the Edge, photo by Dave Sutherland