Coming up at City Council: September 12-16, 2016

Expect to hear a lot next week about suicide prevention and the High Level Bridge.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

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.

Edmonton Suicide Prevention Strategy 2016-2021

This new strategy is the result of two years of work on better suicide prevention in Edmonton.

“While suicide is a complex issue involving the interaction of biological, psychological and social factors, it is preventable. The Edmonton Suicide Prevention Strategy provides an understanding of suicide in Edmonton and recommends a set of actions for implementation that reflect evidence-based practices. Recommended actions are intended to enhance known protective factors that mitigate against suicide while reducing factors that put individuals at higher risk. The strategy employs a universal preventive approach that emphasizes collaboration and coordination of services. It also takes into account alignment opportunities with existing and upcoming community and provincial initiatives.”

Research into the issue surfaced a number of key learnings:

  • “There were 117 deaths by suicide in Edmonton in 2013 and 165 in the Edmonton Zone of Alberta Health Services, which includes surrounding areas.” And that’s probably an underestimate.
  • “Three out of four suicide deaths are male, and most suicides among men take place between the ages of 30 and 69 years.”
  • “After a mental illness, the risk factors most frequently associated with suicide include substance abuse, trauma, social isolation, and higher rates of poverty.”
  • “According to the Injury Prevention Centre, the total loss costs associated with suicidal behaviour in the Edmonton Zone – Alberta Health Services, were estimated at over $89 million in 2013.”

The strategy highlights three goals:

  • “to provide awareness and education to promote positive mental health and reduce the stigma of suicide”
  • “to ensure the whole continuum of services including the promotion of positive mental health, prevention, intervention, and postvention”
  • “to promote these services to be fully accessible and address the needs of at-risk populations”

If approved by Council, an implementation plan for the strategy will be developed. “The development of an implementation plan for Edmonton will not require additional financial resources as this work falls under the Urban Isolation/Mental Health Initiative and will be funded within current operating budgets.”

High Level Bridge Pathways

Councillor McKeen made an inquiry back in June related to the development and delivery of the High Level Bridge Safety Rails project, commonly referred to as the suicide barriers. This report is the response, and provides an overview of the three options that Council considered as well as suggestions on how to make the pathways more friendly for pedestrians and cyclists.

Here were the three options that Council considered:

  • Option 1: Chain Link ($1.2-1.7 million)
  • Option 2: Existing bridge rail with additional height added ($3.0 million)
  • Option 3: State of the art design ($7.4 million)

Council voted to go with option 2 back in August 2014 and approved funding later that year.

While the City did consult with EPS, AHS, The Support Network, and other stakeholders during the development of the concepts, “broader consultation was not undertaken during the design phase because of the sensitivity of the suicide issue.” They are now of course engaged with the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society, Paths for People, and other organizations and individuals.

High Level Bridge

The City contracted Urban Systems to conduct a safety review and you can read their report here. They identified 13 issues and suggested improvements, including:

  • Consider making the pathways one-way – the east side of the bridge would be northbound only and the west side would be southbound only. Another option is to make the east side one-way only for bicycles.
  • Install “enhanced physical separation between the carriageway and the west side and east side pathways” to keep cyclists from entering the road.
  • Install reflective hazard markings on all obstructions.
  • “Consider installing additional pedestrian scale overhead lighting where feasible on the bridge pathway itself ensuring that any additional light does not obstruct the pathway itself.”
  • “Widen the pathway on the east side of the bridge approach utilizing space within the roadway shoulder and/or additional right of way.”
  • Add better route wayfinding and other signage.

Some of the recommendations have already been implemented, such as additional signage and the installation of reflective hazard markings. Other recommendations are still being considered and the City is looking for additional input on those.

Bylaw 17755 – To Increase Allowance of Participation by Communications Facilities in Committee Meetings

That’s a really wordy way of saying that the City wants to allow people to participate in Council meetings via phone or perhaps something more advanced like Skype, even if they are in the city. To do so, they are recommending an amendment to the Procedures and Committees Bylaw 12300 to “remove the requirement for persons wishing to participate by communication facility to be in a location outside of Edmonton.” The report notes that the last citizen participant by telephone was in 2007. The location restriction was put in place for technological reasons (at the time) as well as the value that was placed on in-person communication.

“This amendment could increase accessibility for residents who are unable or disinclined to physically attend meetings, and could contribute to the goal of ensuring public involvement processes are accessible to the public as per Council Policy C513 – Public Involvement.”

We don’t have the same technological barriers today, of course. Many of us use web conferencing tools all day, every day, and they work incredibly well. The report doesn’t recommend anything in particular, and it is expected that initially remote participation would be done by phone. But “technology and infrastructure upgrades” could come in the future.

Administration recommends allowing remote participation only in Committee meetings. The rationale:

“A Statutory Hearing is a City Council meeting required to be held under statute where members of the public have a right to speak. There is lack of legal certainty as to whether a technological failure, either on the speaker’s end or the City’s end, could result in a speaker being denied their right to address City Council.”

There is no expected budget impact from this change. Apparently Edmonton would be the first municipality in Canada and possibly the United States to allow remote public participation in Council meetings.

Here’s more on the story from Elise Stolte.

Other interesting items

  • An update on the Art of Living Implementation Plan notes that 13 out of 17 Arts & Culture recommendations have been completed (76%) and 8 out of 11 Heritage recommendations were completed (73%). Development of a refreshed strategy for the next ten years is slated to begin in 2017.
  • Council approved $5.3 million in the 2015-2018 Capital Budget for the Rollie Miles Athletic Field District Park Renewal. The recommended Master Plan is now available. If approved, design work will begin this year with construction starting next year.
  • A report on garage and garden suites summarizes feedback received on current regulations and proposes draft amendments to the Zoning Bylaw. Some of the recommended amendments include combining the two into a single classification, increasing the maximum heights for flat-roofed buildings, reducing parking requirements for seniors’ oriented units, and removing balconies and stairwells from floor area calculations.
  • Administration recommends the sale of up to eight City owned building sites to homeEd at 50% of market value for the purpose of constructing new market and affordable medium-density housing.
  • There are lots of interesting stats in this report on Funding for Purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates. For instance, “approximately 353,000 carbon dioxide equivalent tonnes were emitted from City operations” in 2015. The goal is to have that down to 179,228 by 2018. It’ll cost about $3.3 million to get there.
  • The 2015 Annual Report and Audited Financial Statements are now available for the Fort Road Business Association, French Quarter Business Association, and Downtown Business Association.
  • The City intended to build a public school in Evansdale at 150 Avenue and 87 Street and assembled the land to do so in 1969. But a few years ago, EPSB declared the site as surplus to its needs, so now the City is proposing to sell it at market value. The Muslim Association of Canada has expressed interest in purchasing and developing the site.
  • The surplus school site in Kiniski Gardens South is proposed to be sold at market value to the Headway School Society of Alberta.

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.

Coming up at City Council: August 29 – September 2, 2016

In addition to discussing the report on Northlands’ Vision 2020, there are a number of other things coming up for Council next week.

Wading Pool Race!
Photo by Kurt Bauschardt

Here’s my look at everything else that Council will be discussing in the week ahead.

Meetings this week

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

Edmonton Arena District Update

The latest update on Rogers Place and the Edmonton Arena District states:

“Since the last update report, the private sector District development surrounding the Arena has continued to advance. A significant milestone occurred at the end of May when Greyhound transferred their bus operations out of the downtown. Demolition of the Greyhound building has been completed, and excavation of the site and the abutting former 103 Street is now underway.”

Rogers Place is “nearing completion and is expected to be available for occupancy by September 2, 2016, the contracted facility turnover date.” In other words, on time, at least as of August 8, 2016. The facility is also on target to achieve the LEED Silver designation.

Former Greyhound Station

Some other highlights:

  • “A robust communications plan is planned to roll out as the opening of the facility approaches.”
  • “At the time of writing this report, commissioning was underway and various areas of the building have received final inspection. Equipment and furniture is now being moved into the building.”
  • “As of the end of June, there was a daily average of 1,019 workers on-site. The on-site team continues to work in a safe manner with one lost-time-incident. To date, there have been 8,321 workers fully oriented on the site.”
  • “Through the beginning of May, 87 percent (7,045 tons) of all waste material had been diverted from the landfill.”
  • “The building will officially open September 8, 2016, with the first major event being an Open House planned for September 10, 2016, to give the public the opportunity to explore and enjoy the building.”
  • “The City will host a separate community-focused grand opening event for the Downtown Community Arena on September 25, 2016.”

On the financial state of the project:

“The total approved capital budget for the Downtown Arena project (capital profile #1117-0099 as amended) is $611,859,000. The total capital expenditure as at June 30, 2016, is approximately $542,044,192.”

The report mentions an “unresolved legal claim” that could mean additional interim funding is required.

Edmonton Filmed Entertainment Fund

Council had previously asked for an update on the Edmonton Filmed Entertainment Fund, which was established in 2012 by EEDC with Kilkburn Media LLC and with $5 million in grant funding from the City. It was created “to support filmed entertainment projects principally shot in Edmonton using local resources.” To date, the fund has invested in three projects: Freezer (2012), Cut Bank (2013), and 40 Below (2015).

Here’s how the fund has performed so far:

  • “The Fund has invested 92% ($4.62M) of the grant funding in three projects since inception and has received 64% ($2.9M) return to date toward this investment.”
  • “In regards to the Economic Impact goal, the Fund has generated $6.47M in economic activity from three films, including $2.34M of direct employment income in the film and entertainment industry.”
  • “The Fund was created as a revolving fund. However, the investments so far have begun generating revenues 12 months after the investments or later. The lengthy payback period limits the ability to invest in multiple projects or larger projects.”

The target was to generate an economic multiplier ratio of 6:1, but instead the return on investment was -33%.

Unsurprisingly, EEDC has “concluded that the existing model used for the Fund is not proving to be successful.” They said $5 million is not enough to invest in big enough projects to see larger returns, and that “13-20 percent return on investment was optimistic, this industry involves too many risks to guarantee any profits – even with industry experts involved.”

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.

Northlands’ Vision 2020 is not going to happen

The City of Edmonton released its analysis of Northlands’ Vision 2020 proposal today. Introducing the report, City Manager Linda Cochrane said, “we acknowledge that Vision 2020 is an option for what could be done with the 160 acres.” It’s clear from reading the report however that the City doesn’t support the plan.

“Northlands has proposed an ambitious plan and there are elements that are worthy of future exploration,” Mayor Iveson said. But there’s a but. “Council’s job must be to make decisions that are in the best interest of the city, not just one organization.” Suggesting that there’s more work to be done, he said “it’s critical that we aren’t rushed and that we make the right decision for our city.”

Northlands Park

Vision 2020 proposes a transformation of both Northlands as an organization and the 160 acres of land that it leases from the City and operates, which includes Rexall Place, the Edmonton EXPO Centre, Northlands Park Racetrack and Casino, and all of the parking. The plan would see Rexall Place repurposed as a recreation facility, a retrofit for Hall D in the EXPO Centre, a new agriculture strategy, the end of horse racing and a redevelopment of Northlands Park into an urban festival site, and a redevelopment plan consisting of commercial, retail, and residential uses. The key to making the plan work is debt forgiveness on the $48 million outstanding debt that Northlands owes on the Edmonton EXPO Centre, to say nothing of the capital expenditures required to build everything outlined in the plan.

Debt Forgiveness

On the debt forgiveness, Mayor Iveson was clear that is not likely to happen. “I don’t believe Edmontonians would support forgiving a debt this large.” Perhaps more importantly, there’s no upside to the City by forgiving the debt.

Northlands owes $47.4 million as of June 30, 2016 and the City has a corresponding debt obligation with the Alberta Capital Finance Authority for the same amount. Every year Northlands pays the City $4.05 million which the City in turn pays to ACFA, so there’s zero impact to the City. If the loan were forgiven, the City would have to find a way to pay the $4.05 million each year for the loan from ACFA, which expires in 2034 and does not have an option for early termination. “Funding this loan from the tax levy would require a 0.3% tax levy increase in 2017 at a total cost of $72.8 million for the remaining duration of the loan.”

Northlands is projecting negative cash flows of $7.7 million per year which means it may be at risk of defaulting on its loan payments as early as next year. If that were to happen, the City would have the ability to terminate the lease and take back possession of the EXPO Centre which provides the City with “a tangible capital asset that will limit the impact of a default on the City’s financial position.” In theory the City could use income generated from the EXPO Centre to fund the ACFA loan.

“The business case for the expansion of the Expo Centre was overly ambitious in retrospect,” Mayor Iveson said today. But we are where we are, there’s no going back now.

Debt forgiveness or not, the City is on the hook for the money. But by allowing Northlands to default on its loan, the City gains complete control of the Northlands site and EXPO Centre as well.

Repurposing Rexall Place

“There is no immediate demand for six new ice sheets in Edmonton,” the report states, “however opportunity does exist to leverage the Rexall repurpose concept in the context of closing or repurposing four single-sheet ice facilities in north and northeast Edmonton.” The Mayor sounded somewhat optimistic about the idea, and mentioned that he had even spoken with Hockey Canada recently to explore the idea of a hockey academy in the facility. Northlands estimates the cost of repurposing the facility at $85 million. While the City says it “is technically feasible” they disagree on the cost, suggesting “an estimate of $102 million within -10% to +20% would be more appropriate.”

Farewell Rexall Place
Farewell Rexall Place, photo by Jeff Wallace

The wrinkle with this part of the plan is that the City is restricted by the Master Agreement with the Edmonton Arena Corporation (EAC) on the kind of investments it can make to Rexall Place. “The City cannot not make additional capital expenditures that exceed those required to maintain Rexall Place in a safe condition and in compliance with applicable laws.” Furthermore, as soon as Rogers Place opens the City has to stop providing any financial support to Rexall Place, directly or indirectly, except as required to comply with the law and maintain public safety.

The biggest issue however is that “the City must not financially support or advocate in favour of any plan to rebuild or renovate Rexall Place, unless it is to convert the facility to something other than a sports or entertainment facility.” If the plan to repurpose Rexall Place is going to go ahead, the EAC would need to formally waive that restriction.

Hall D

The Hall D retrofit would increase seating capacity to 5,000 but “appears difficult to justify based on the anticipated market demand” for events it might serve. Vision 2020 assumes the facility could attract 50 concerts and events annually, but the consultants research indicates that “a maximum of 20 to 24 concerts annually appear to be the upper boundary for this type of building.” Last year, Hall D hosted 6 concerts.

Electrical and mechanical upgrades as well as a roof replacement would all be required for Hall D in the next 2-4 years. “Without a long term tenant (e.g. minor sports franchise), enhancements to Hall D cannot be justified in the immediate term.” Again the report suggests a higher cost estimate than Northlands did, at “$38.7 million within -10% to +30%.”

Urban Festival site

Recognizing that the site “may provide a unique opportunity to the region” the report raises major concerns about the feasibility of the idea. Industry data suggests there may be market demand in the long-term, but “it is unclear if there is sufficient market demand to achieve the necessary revenue to make the site profitable.” Interviews conducted with local festival organizers suggest “there is not significant interest in relocating to the Northlands site at this time.”

K-Days

In general, the report highlights a lack of detail supporting the idea and says that further investigation would be required. “The updated cost estimate provided by Northlands of $83.6 million cannot be verified as accurate with any certainty,” the report says.

Residential Opportunities

Vision 2020 proposes 3,195 residential units in a mix of concrete high-rise buildings, wood frame low/mid-rise buildings, and townhomes. It anticipates absorption of 540 units per year, a figure the report says is unrealistic. The consultants estimated that Northlands “could reasonably capture at most 15-20% of apartment demand in the city’s mature neighbourhoods” which would mean demand for, “at most, 100-150 multi-family apartment units per year on average from 2015 to 2035.” There does appear to be “market demand for 400 beds to serve Concordia University” but the report notes that in addition to a lack of funding, “the economics of a concrete high-rise for student housing that assumes market rates for land is difficult to achieve.”

The Future of Northlands

When Vision 2020 was released earlier this year, Northlands suggested it would cost $165 million. The City puts the estimated cost at more than $230 million. Northlands deserves some credit for thinking big and putting something on the table, but Vision 2020 just isn’t realistic and will not happen. The future of Northlands will be something different.

Asked if the decision to build the new arena is the root of all of Northlands’ problems, the mayor said that was an oversimplification of a complex situation. “This has hastened a conversation that I think would have happened anyway,” he said.

mayor don iveson

Mayor Iveson indicated he will propose a merger of the EXPO Centre and Shaw Conference Centre next week when Council discusses the report. “This report provides a wake up call that the time for integration is now,” he said. “I believe that if we look at bringing the two conference centres together under a shared events authority, we will get better tourism and economic development results for our city.” He wouldn’t speculate on whether Northlands, EEDC, or a new organization should become that shared events authority.

This is an idea that is long overdue. It regularly comes up in discussions about the various facilities and organizations, and came up again earlier this month when Chris LaBossiere suggested a merger could be a way forward for Northlands. To his credit, Northlands CEO Tim Reid is open to the idea. “One of the things that has never made sense to me in our city is why we have two very large conference, convention and trade facilities that are run under different entities,” he told Metro.

Council will discuss the report at a Special City Council Meeting on August 31. You can dig into the full analysis here.

Coming up at City Council: August 15-19, 2016

Council is back from the summer break next week! Let’s hope they all got some much needed R&R.

City Hall

Here’s my look at what Council will be discussing in the week ahead. Interesting to see that a number of the reports now include a section called “Metrics, Targets, and Outcomes” in addition to the existing “Corporate Outcomes”. This is a welcome addition.

Meetings this week

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

Municipal Voting Age

The City of Edmonton Youth Council (CEYC) wants the Province to amend the Local Authorities Election Act to allow 16 and 17 year old citizens the right to vote. The CEYC voted in factor of asking for the change at their February 3, 2016 meeting and now they want Council to give them permission to send a letter requesting the change.

The letter the CEYC has prepared reads in part:

“Youth in Edmonton have proven they are ready for this change. Sixteen-­year-­olds already have rights permitting them to drive on city roads, be emancipated and live on their own, be in the army reserves, and be a parent, among many others. Through being able to handle these responsibilities youth have shown not only that they are ready but that they are competent in municipal issues.”

The report notes that “lowering the voting age has been successful in countries such as Norway, Austria, and Scotland to increase voter engagement and turnout.”

If Council accepts the recommendation, the letter will be sent to the Province. It would be great to see this change made and for it to take effect in time for next year’s elections!

River Valley Alliance

In February the River Valley Alliance submitted to its members a Draft Capital Program for 2017-2022 and now it needs the City of Edmonton’s approval in order to seek additional funding. “The total projected cost to complete the proposed River Valley Alliance trail system from Devon to Fort Saskatchewan is estimated at $200 million, of which close to $100 million of the proposed capital spending would occur within Edmonton’s municipal boundaries.” So far $72.9 million has been spent on River Valley Alliance projects like the Terwillegar Park pedestrian bridge and the new funicular, split evenly between the three orders of government.

The report identifies three next steps:

  • “If City Council supports the Draft Capital Program 2017-2022, Administration will continue to work with the River Valley Alliance to confirm alignments, land acquisitions, cost sharing agreements, phasing of construction and determination of alternate priorities (if required). At this time City Council would only be providing its tentative support for these projects with formal approval being subject to further work with the River Valley Alliance to identify a mutually agreed upon final list of projects based on better understanding of City and partner municipality priorities, project costs, schedule and logical project phasing.”
  • “Administration will continue to work with the River Valley Alliance to develop a proposed cost-sharing formula for the portion of the Draft Capital Program 2017 – 2022 within Edmonton’s municipal boundaries, which will be brought back to City Council for approval.”
  • “Administration will confirm with the River Valley Alliance that the City will continue its role in planning, operating, designing, building, operating and maintaining any future river valley capital projects within Edmonton’s municipal boundaries as described in the Draft Capital Program 2017-2022.”

The list of projects for 2017-2022 in Edmonton includes four new pedestrian bridges, three new boat launches & docks, and four new trails.

Fort Edmonton Foot Bridge
Fort Edmonton Foot Bridge, photo by IQRemix

Administration recommends that Council provide its conditional support for the projects “and that formal approval be subject to further work with the River Valley Alliance to identify a mutually agreed upon final list of projects based on better understanding of City and partner municipality priorities, project costs, schedule and logical project phasing.” Once the proposed list and cost-sharing formula are finalized, Administration would create a budget submission for consideration as part of the 2019-2022 Capital Budget.

Soccer Centres

This report responds to the inquiry Councillor Walters made in May about the current usage and capacity of the City’s indoor soccer centres. Here are the highlights:

  • Edmonton has two types of indoor soccer facilities: boarded (with a carpet surface) and non-boarded (with artificial turf).
  • There are three soccer centres that accommodate boarded soccer (northeast, southeast, west). Each facility has four playing surfaces for a total of twelve fields.
  • Collectively each year, the twelve fields have approximately 20,000 scheduled games, 23,700 hours utilized, 853,200 player visits for games, 138,000 spectators, and over $550,00 in revenue collected.
  • During prime time (5pm to 10pm Monday to Friday, 7am to 10pm on weekends) in the winter (September to March) the utilization rate of the three facilities is 94%. During prime time in the summer (April to August) the utilization rate is 54% and most of that is for sports other than soccer.
  • “The Recreation Facility Master Plan (2005-2015) reflects a service level ratio of one pitch to 55,000 residents. To maintain this, the Plan recommends two additional indoor pitches.”
  • The fieldhouse at the Commonwealth Community Recreation Centre is the only City-owned non-boarded indoor facility. “The only other indoor non-boarded facility in Edmonton, located at 14025 142 Street, is owned and operated by the Victoria Soccer Club.” A second turf facility is under construction there and is expected to open in November 2016.
  • “The St. Albert Soccer Association is proposing a partnership with the City of Edmonton and the City of St. Albert for a full-sized, indoor, artificial turf field on land owned by the City of Edmonton in north Edmonton.”

The report notes that soccer is particularly popular in our city. “Soccer is the number one minor sport activity in Edmonton based on the 2010 Current State of Sport assessment and census data shows the population under the age of nine grew by 13 percent from 2009 to 2014, which may lead to continued growth in registrations.”

Other interesting items

  • A new report recommends that City Policy C532 (Sustainable Building Policy) be updated “to ensure it aligns with City of Edmonton goals for a sustainable, energy resilient, low carbon Edmonton.” If approved, the updated policy is slated to return to Council in Q1 2017.
  • Council will receive a City of Edmonton Youth Council report on Experiential Graphic Design, defined as “involving the orchestration of typography, colour, imagery, form, technology, and content to create environments that communicate.” The idea is to integrate this thinking into the City’s recent wayfinding efforts. “Experiential Graphic Design could act as a powerful tool to help both residents and visitors navigate the city’s extensive pedestrian, bicycle and public transit networks, while forming memorable through personal interactions with their environments.”
  • There are three notices of intent to designate new Munipical Historic Resources for the Hunt Residence at 12520 109A Avenue NW, the Shop Easy Grocery at 11606 129 Avenue NW, and the John Wood Residence at 11833 102 Avenue NW.
  • A total of $28,675 is recommended in Travel Grant funding to 43 individuals.
  • A total of $330,700 is recommended in funding to support 18 facilities through the Arts Building Operating Grant program. The largest grant is $59,000 for the Metro Cinema Society.

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.

Thoughts on the proposed downtown mega-bars from Urban Sparq

The two mega-bars proposed for downtown have been top of mind for many this week. One would have an occupancy of 596 and would be located in the new Fox 2 Tower on 104 Street. The second would have an occupancy of 1,400 and would be located in the old Mothers Music location on 109 Street. If approved, these two mega-bars would represent a significant variance from the current zoning which allow for establishments of 100 licensed seats. CBC has reported that Urban Sparq, owner of Knoxville’s Tavern and The Pint, is the proponent behind both.

So far the opposition to these two proposals seems unanimous. Councillor Scott McKeen has called the proposals “ridiculous”. The Downtown Edmonton Community League has sent a letter expressing its concerns, as have numerous businesses and residents from 104 Street. Many more have shared their thoughts on social media, especially on the 104 Street Facebook page. Given this, it would be extremely bold of chief planner Peter Ohm and his team to approve these variances, or at least the one on 104 Street.

I too am opposed to the proposals, but perhaps not as vehemently as others.

Shopping 104 Street
Shopping 104 Street, photo by EEDC

To me, noise and disorder isn’t really the issue here. Just as I don’t feel any sympathy for the people who buy a house near Anthony Henday Drive and then complain about traffic noise, I don’t feel any sympathy for those who bought a condo in the Fox Towers or any other nearby tower, just a stone’s throw away from the arena & entertainment district, with an expectation of peace and quiet. It’s simply unreasonable. This is the heart of our city and it should be a lively, vibrant place. I’m not saying that downtown should only be for singles or DINKs, but on the spectrum of neighbourhoods in the city I would not expect downtown to be at the slow and quiet end.

I’m also not convinced that a large bar is going to be so much worse than 20,000 people filing out of the arena on a regular basis and into the surrounding area, including plenty of people who have already been drinking all night inside the arena. I recognize that most events will end a lot earlier in the evening than a bar would close, and maybe the impact from arena patrons will be minimal. But I’m not sure that’s a bet I’d make.

We don’t know what kind of establishment would go into the Fox Tower. With an occupancy of 600 it is large, but far smaller than the combined occupancy of Knoxville’s Tavern and Studio 107 (formerly Oil City Roadhouse and Vinyl) at 1,600. Urban Sparq’s other properties include The Pint and Denizen Hall, both of which have much better reputations than Knoxville’s does.

As someone who has lived on 104 Street for five years, I can tell you it’s not always quiet or orderly now. Weekend evenings are frequently full of hollering from the throngs of people moving through the area, and I’ve walked around my share of puke. For the most part however, establishments on our street have been great neighbours. Most of the time you’d have no indication that Kelly’s Pub or Mercer Tavern or Cask & Barrel are on the street. They do a reasonable job of helping to make 104 Street the well-regarded area that it is and the new Purple Flag designation reflects this. I think a community working together to set reasonable expectations can go a long way toward preventing the kinds of issues that so many seem concerned about. But you need to have a dialogue to do that.

I think the way the proponents have gone about this is just ridiculous, and I think as a city we should use this as an opportunity to better define how we expect these sorts of proposals to come forward. Council squandered an opportunity to set expectations about large towers by approving the Emerald Tower last month, so I hope the City doesn’t waste this opportunity to demand more from developers looking to occupy those buildings. It’s unacceptable to avoid engaging the community and it’s even worse to try to hide your involvement altogether. It says a lot about the character of the proponents and is a major reason I am opposed to the proposals.

That said, the response from the 104 Street community thus far hasn’t been great either. The low bar set by the proponent has been matched with a “we must stop this at all costs” kind of approach, including action committees formed in many of the residences along the street specifically to fight this. Where’s the invitation for dialogue? Also, I don’t for a second believe that as many people checked the zoning before they bought into the street as one would gather from reading all the responses. NIMBYism is just as applicable downtown as it is in the suburbs, it would seem.

The most common refrain I have seen from those opposed to the proposal is that it is out of character with 104 Street and could undo the great work that has happened over the last 20 years. I have great respect for everyone who has had a role in making 104 Street what it is today, but to say that one establishment would destroy all of that strikes me as a bit alarmist. Especially considering the number of businesses that have failed on 104 Street or moved elsewhere in just the last five years alone.

The issue is not that a large bar is too dissimilar to the smaller, more intimate venues that we currently have on the street. It’s that a mega-bar like this would probably be more like Knoxville’s Tavern in that it would sit closed most of the time, meaning we’d have yet another downtown street front devoid of life. Paula wrote about this too:

“Giant big-box bars of this type tend to stay closed during the day — and sometimes during most weeknights. They often only open on Friday and Saturday nights. That means big hollow spaces sit vacant much of the week, draining life from the street. That’s not vibrancy at all.”

I get that the folks opposed are not saying they are opposed to vibrancy and business development in general. But it really comes off as, “as long as it’s vibrancy that we approve of.” Again, this could be an opportunity to identify what kinds of businesses we do want on the street and to then do something about it. How can we attract them?

Most of the discussion so far, as above, has been about the proposed bar for the Fox 2. There has been much less said about the bar proposed for the Mothers Music building, even though it is much larger and is potentially even more problematic. Consider that the building Knoxville’s Tavern currently occupies is slated to be demolished to make way for a new development and that the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board dismissed an appeal against the 388-seat Hudson’s that will open just down the block from The Pint on 109 Street. It makes sense to move the 1,000 seat Knoxville’s to the 1,400 seat Mothers Music building rather than to a smaller, more expensive location, and a proposal for a 600 seat bar on 104 Street at the same time seems like a perfect distraction. Instead of discussing whether or not we really want 2,200 licensed seats along the 109 Street strip from Jasper Avenue to 103 Avenue, the discussion is all about the supposed destruction of 104 Street. Which do you think would be worse for cleanliness, disorder, and safety?

On the Edge
On the Edge, photo by Dave Sutherland

Furthermore, there’s a bigger discussion here we should be having about the impact of Ice District. Will event-goers really need additional places to party after the arena closes? Should those places be in the district or elsewhere in the downtown? What is the impact on policing, transportation, and other considerations for each approach? These are all important questions that need exploration.

As I said, I am opposed to both proposals in their current forms. I think they would result in less truly vibrant streets and I think we should make an example of them to set expectations and to encourage higher quality proposals in the future. I am disappointed in the knee-jerk NIMBYism on display here though, and I’m concerned it is distracting us from the bigger picture. I think it is really unlikely the City will approve these variances, and I hope that once the rejections come through, we can continue the dialogue on some of the related and very important questions that these proposals have raised.

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.

Coming up at City Council: May 2-6, 2016

The future of Edmonton’s LRT planning and funding will be one of the major topics for Council this week, alongside updates to the Capital Budget and a look at the funding impacts of the Federal budget. The downtown arena will also be before Council again, as there’s a bylaw to increase borrowing through the downtown CRL to make up for the Provincial funding that never materialized (but which was part of the original financial agreement).

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.

Spring 2016 Supplemental Capital Budget Update

Part of the City’s budget process is to adjust the Capital Budget in the spring “in response to changing project needs, new funding opportunities and to respond to emerging issues and changing priorities.”

“The funding available for reallocation in the Supplemental Capital Budget Adjustment is $34.9 million, and is comprised of $10.3 million in Pay-As-You-Go funding, $20.6 million in Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding and $4 million of Neighbourhood Renewal Program tax levy funding (released from Profile 12-66-1073 Pavement Management Relocation), which will be directed towards the Neighbourhood Renewal funding deficit.”

Of that, $19.5 million is recommended to go toward the 2016 Neighbourhood Renewal Program shortfall (the $4 million plus $15.5 of the MSI funding). That leaves $15.4 million available for reallocation. The City is recommending using the funding as follows:

  • Manning Drive ($5.7 million)
  • St. Andrews Surplus Park ($0.8 million)
  • Bus Fleet Replacement ($4.9 million)
  • Fire – Dispatch System Radio ($1.5 million)
  • EPS – Helicopter Replacement ($2.5 million)

The report also notes that Edmonton is projected to see a $15 million decrease in MSI funding as a result of the 2016-2017 Provincial Budget and that Administration will bring forward a strategy to deal with this. You’ll also find an overview of projected savings, 2015 carry forwards, new profiles recommended for funding, and other information on changes to the budget.

One of the new profiles recommended for funding is Pedestrian Wayfinding (CM-21-6000):

“Edmonton’s streets and parks are envisioned to be vibrant places where citizens and visitors can walk, access public transit, visit local businesses, and live healthy active lives. The provision of accurate, consistent, public information to help people find their way to local destinations is a key element of improving the livability of a City. Funding this $2.6 million profile is recommended to come from two funded Transit profiles: LRT Facilities & Right of Way Renewal (CM-66-3200) & Bus Facilities Renewal (CM-66-3500) and one Information Technology profile Enterprise Applications Growth (CM-18-1508).”

I really hope that funding goes ahead!

Federal Transit Stimulus Update

This report looks at the most recent federal budget, which “announced $60 billion in new infrastructure funding, delivering on the new government’s promise to nearly double infrastructure spending over the next 10 years.” The plan will be implemented in two phases – the first will provide $11.9 billion over five years. Here’s what that means for Edmonton:

  • Edmonton will receive $50,000 in base funding plus about $140 million from the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund.
  • Alberta will receive about $196.7 million from the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund.
  • “Under the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund and Clean Water and Wastewater Fund initiatives, the federal contribution will be up to 50 percent of total eligible costs for projects, with eligible costs expanded to include design, engineering, and other planning costs not currently eligible for federal funding.”
  • “Federal Budget 2016 also announced $250 million for municipal capacity building programs to be managed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to provide funding directly to municipalities.”
  • “Removal of the mandatory P3 screen across the New Building Canada Fund, allowing municipalities to determine the best procurement model for their local circumstances.”

The report also identifies some potential projects that could be eligible for funding under these programs. For the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund, the only project identified is the Malcolm Tweddle/Edith Rogers Dry Pond at $20 million. For the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund, twelve projects have been identified:

  1. D.L. MacDonald Transit Yards Traction Power Substation ($5 million)
  2. Future LRT Planning, Phase 1 ($1.5 million)
  3. Future LRT Design Phase 1 ($32.7 million)
  4. Bus Replacement ($10.8 million)
  5. Growth LRVs ($116 million)
  6. Bus Camera Systems ($7 million)
  7. Growth Buses ($47 million)
  8. Bus Priority Signals ($2 million)
  9. Heritage Valley Transit Centre and Park and Ride ($29 million)
  10. Station Lands Pedway ($26 million)
  11. Electric Buses (No cost estimates)
  12. Design for the Refurbishment of Stadium and Coliseum Stations ($2 million)

The next step could be that Council chooses to submit some of these projects for federal funding.

Priorities for Future LRT Funding

Last week Transportation Committee discussed the priorities of future LRT funding. The City is recommending the following order:

  1. Valley Line, Downtown to Lewis Farms (LW-1, LW-2, LW-3)
  2. Metro Line, NAIT to Blatchford North (HNW-1)
  3. Capital Line, Century Park to Ellerslie (HSW-1)
  4. Downtown Circulator, University to Bonnie Doon (LE-1)
  5. Metro Line, Blatchford North to Castle Downs (HNW-2)

The item was referred to Council by the Committee without a recommendation.

Edmonton Light Rail Transit
Edmonton Light Rail Transit, photo by IQRemix

There’s also a report on future LRT concept planning that identifies the remaining projects in order of priority:

  1. Downtown Circulator, Energy Line and Festival Line to City Limits
  2. Valley Line, Mill Woods to Ellerslie Road
  3. Capital Line, Gorman to Edmonton Energy and Technology Park
  4. Capital Line, Heritage Valley Town Centre to the Edmonton International Airport

Administration had identified $1.5 million for LRT concept planning in the 2016-2018 Operating Budget, but Council did not approve it. The service package will be updated and presented at a future supplementary operating budget adjustment.

Other interesting items

  • If Council approves, a Special City Council meeting will be scheduled for August 31 at 1:30pm to hold a non-statutory public hearing on Northlands’ Vision 2020.
  • Councillor Henderson intends to make a motion that would direct the City to investigate becoming a biophilic city, which are “cities that contain abundant nature; they are cities that care about, seek to protect, restore and grow this nature, and that strive to foster deep connections and daily contact with the natural world.” You can learn more here.
  • There’s a recommendation “that the Mayor, on behalf of City Council, write to the Minister of Environment and Parks, to advocate for the development of a regulatory compliance framework for commercial waste haulage and disposal that promotes sound environmental sustainability including incentivizing private haulers.”
  • Council had allocated $50,000 to the Downtown Proud program in 2013, but it was never spent as matching funds were not raised and circumstances changed. The City is now recommending that the money be used to help transition to a new fee-for-service delivery model and to ensure a “living wage” for program workers.
  • Bylaw 17639 would increase the borrowing authority for the downtown arena by about $32 million to replace provincial grant funding that was not secured. This bylaw is ready for first reading only.
  • Bylaw 17589 would designate Phyllis Grocery, located at 10631 96 Street NW, as a Municipal Historic Resource and would allocate funding of $91,822.50 from the Heritage Reserve Fund for the building. “The total estimated cost of the restoration portion of the project is over $183,000.”

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.

Coming up at City Council: April 18-22, 2016

It should be an interesting week at Council with the controversial Mezzo project in Old Strathcona, an update on the 2016-2018 Operating Budget and property tax increases, an analysis of the snow removal program, a new marketing plan for the Edmonton Waste Management Centre, and many other topics on the agenda.

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.

2016-2018 Supplementary Operating Budget Adjustment

Council approved its first multi-year operating budget in December 2015 and this report provides an update and recommended adjustments now that assessment growth has been finalized. Here’s the overall result:

“With the approval of the recommendations including adjustments in Attachment 1, the average percentage increase of the combined municipal and education residential property tax for 2016 would be 2.8% (2.2% increase for services and 0.6% increase for Valley Line LRT). In 2017 the property tax increase would be 3.0% (2.4% increase for services and 0.6% increase for Valley Line LRT) and in 2018 the property tax increase would be 4.6% (2.6% increase for services, 1.4% increase for Neighbourhood Renewal, and 0.6% increase for Valley Line LRT).”

That compares to 3.4% in each of 2016 and 2017 and 4.8% in 2018 as originally approved.

Here are some other highlights from the report:

  • “The increase in tax revenue available from growth over what was approved in the 2016 interim budget is $5.7 million.”
  • “Transit fare revenue is forecasted to be $2.3 million less than the approved budget, mainly as a result of fewer rides due to the economic slowdown.”
  • “The debt servicing costs have been revised to reflect the most current forecasted capital project cash flows and results in the Corporate Expenditure budget decreasing by $0.3 million in 2016, $2.3 million in 2017 and increasing by $1 million in 2018.”
  • “Approval of the adjustments will result in operating budgets for tax-supported operations budgets having revenues and expenditures of $2,559,813,000 in 2016, $2,603,522,000 in 2017, and $2,736,309,000 in 2018.”
  • Updated economic forecasts have resulted in a recommended decrease in revenue for the Belvedere CRL, but an increase for the Downtown and Quarters CRLs.
  • Using the new funding formula, approved funding for EPS will be $322,995,000 in 2016, $335,284,000 in 2017, and $350,113,000 in 2018.

The resulting recommendation is that the 2016 tax levy budget be increased by $5,654,000.

Analysis of Snow Removal Program

It might seem a little odd to be talking about snow removal given the winter we just had, but you know the snow is going to come back with a vengeance next year. This report looks at the main factors that affect snow and ice removal and reviews the efficiency of the program.

So one of the first questions is, how much snow do we typically get? It’s easy to remember: 1-2-3 (about 123 cm annually).

“In an average winter, the city receives 120 cm of snow and there are 11 “snow events” (snowfalls significant enough to require that clearing activities take place).”

snow removal analysis

The next question is, how much do we spend on snow and ice removal?

“The Snow and Ice Control budget has varied substantially over the past decade, ranging from $28 million in 2006 to $61 million in 2015. Actual expenditures have ranged from $35 million (2007) to $74 million (2014) over the same period. In seven of the last ten years, the program’s budget has not covered costs, and nearly $75 milllion has been drawn from the Financial Stabilization Reserve to make up the deficit.”

snow removal analysis

Administration suggests that weather variability, changing service levels, and operational practices and constraints are the three main factors in how much our city spends on snow and ice removal. The number of snow events, the amount of snow that falls, the amount of snowpack that the policy has required, and relying on the private sector to plow major routes are all considerations.

snow removal analysis

The City says it is getting better at snow removal:

“The City’s effectiveness and efficiency in snow and ice control operations (success meeting policy) has improved in the last three years. During the 2013-2014 winter the arterial clearing policy was met 50% of the time, while during the 2014-2015 winter the policy was met 85% of the time. During the 2015-2016 winter season the Snow and Ice Control Policy has been met 100% of the time (note this is only based in one major snow storm).”

But obviously it would be better to avoid having to dip into the stabilization reserve:

“In order to reduce reliance on the Financial Stabilization Reserve, Administration recommends a five year balance window where the Snow and Ice Control budget puts back in the Financial Stabilization Reserve the equivalent amount that it uses during high expenditure years.”

snow removal analysis

While the summer and winter road maintenance programs will all be reviewed as part of the full service review, Administration is not recommending any adjustments to the Snow and Ice Control Budget at this time.

Edmonton Waste Management Centre Marketing Update

In the last quarter of 2015, “a comprehensive marketing plan” was developed for the Waste Management Centre by an external consultant and a full-time marketing and client relations position was filled in November.

“A new visual identity and brand for the Edmonton Waste Management Centre is being developed in alignment with the City’s new visual identity program as part of the marketing plan. The focus will be on positioning the Edmonton Waste Management Centre as a community asset and point of pride. The Edmonton Waste Management Centre is committed to environmental stewardship and customer service, and these two benefits will feature prominently in the Centre’s brand.”

The report notes that “Edmonton’s waste management system is highly regarded” and that “residents ranked waste services in the top three of 24 civic services (along with fire rescue and parks) in combined high importance and high level of satisfaction” in last year’s civic services survey.

The financial impact of the marketing plan, both in terms of costs and targets, will be discussed with Council in private.

Other interesting items

  • Bylaws 17620 and 17621 would amend the Strathcona ARP and approve zoning for the proposed 16 storey building in Old Strathcona known as Mezzo. David Staples wrote that the project is “unusual, unsettling even” but also “essential if Old Strathcona isn’t going to start going downhill in the face of stiff competition.”
  • In response to a question about overtime during the 2016-2018 budget deliberations, a new report says that after a review, Administration “does not support creating additional permanent full-time Full-Time Equivalents as a strategy to reduce overtime expenditures and create net labour savings.”
  • The spring Capital Budget update for Utility Services proposes an overall decrease of $400,000 which works out to a potential utility rate decrease of 4 cents on the typical monthly residential bill.
  • Community Services Committee has recommended that Mayor Iveson, in partnership with Alberta Status of Women, “write a letter to United Nations Women requesting Edmonton’s membership to the Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces program.”
  • Transportation Committee has recommended that “permit fees for road use, set up and usage of City owned roadway barricades, be waived for block parties within the city, and that the corresponding budget revenues be adjusted accordingly.” Hooray for free block parties!
  • Executive Committee referred the analysis of maintaining, moving, or preserving the Graphic Arts Building and the Artery without a recommendation. Should be a lively discussion.
  • Bylaw 17590 would designate the William Lowes Residence at 9837 84 Avenue NW as a Municipal Historic Resource.
  • Bylaw 17104 would designate the Cameron Block at 10543 97 Street NW as a Municipal Historic Resource.
  • Bylaw 17571 will authorize the City to borrow $14,598,000 to widen Whitemud Drive from 40 Street to 17 Street.

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.

EPark has replaced coin parking meters in Edmonton

Edmonton’s last coin parking meter was converted into a new EPark spot on Rice Howard Way today. Councillor Scott McKeen, the City’s GM Operations Dorian Wandzura, and Downtown Business Association Executive Director Jim Taylor were all on hand for a brief ceremony that saw the old meter replaced with a new EPark post cap. Councillor McKeen said he was not sad to see the old parking meters go, nor were the City parking staff who had gathered for the spectacle as they recalled the challenges of carrying money around. The move to the digital EPark system is a sign of the times, and it’s not the first time that parking meters have helped to illustrate Edmonton’s progress.

Councillor Scott McKeen with the last parking meter
Councillor McKeen cradles the last coin parking meter

Our city’s first parking meters, 854 manual winding meters, were installed downtown on July 26, 1948. It cost a nickel to park for an hour, or a penny for 12 minutes. Fines were $1. A few days later, the first parking meter theft in Canada took place in Edmonton as a meter from 101A Avenue near 100 Street was stolen. “The meter contained no more than a few dollars,” the Journal recalled in a piece recognizing the 50th anniversary of parking meters in the city. “In the first week meters operated, the city collected $598.98 in coins, plus ‘a king’s ransom in slugs, plugs and buttons,’ according to newspaper reports.” The City took in about $50,000 in revenue from the parking meters that year.

Toronto became the first Canadian city to install meters accepting dimes in 1952, but Edmonton was doing its share of experimentation at that time too. A Globe and Mail article on the news reported:

“The latest thing in parking meters is being tried in Edmonton. Installed in municipally operated parking lots are meters which during the day take money for parking but at night take 25 cents to keep a car’s motor warm. A coin in the machine sends current through wires which are attached to the motor.”

That story was published on February 6, 1952 so that’s no April Fool’s joke! By 1954, Edmonton’s parking meter tally had grown to about 2,000.

Parking Meter

At some point Edmonton’s parking meters were upgraded to the now more familiar self-winding or electric style. And in 1991, they were upgraded to stop accepting dimes and to start accepting loonies. The Journal reported at the time:

“Before the increase, quarters and dimes covered the 60- to 80-cent-per-hour parking fees but the goods and services tax and the city’s desire to add an extra $300,000 to its $1.8-million yearly parking coffers has changed that.”

There was no shortage of complaints about high parking costs and parking meter enforcement over the years. For instance in 1987, about 30 motocyclists protested against parking meter enforcement by using up almost every spot along a block of Whyte Avenue. Not everyone was so peaceful though. Ray Morin was in charge of the city crew that looked after parking meters, and reflecting on the 50th anniversary in 1998 he told the Journal that about three or so meters were stolen each month. “They take the cement, the works,” he said. Vandalism and abuse of parking officers were also problems for as along as we’ve had parking meters.

City Staff pose with Edmonton's last parking meter
They won’t miss the coin parking meter’s problems

Not everything stayed the same though. When parking meters were first installed downtown, the response from the public was pretty negative. People were upset about having to pay for something they previously got for free. But 50 years later, parking meters were being hailed as convenient, less expensive than parkades, and a way to bring some vibrancy back downtown. “There’s a lot of parking out there, but people want convenience,” Ray Morin told the Journal in 1998. “So we brought in the meters.” Now we’re looking to strike a balance, promoting active transportation options while ensuring downtown is accessible for visitors.

The City did experiment with getting rid of parking meters back in 1995. The small stretch of 103 Avenue between 100 Street and 101 Street had 13 angled parking spots and instead of meters the City installed two ticket dispensing machines at a cost of $10,000 each. The machines were expected to be cheaper to operate than parking meters, but they didn’t last and eventually parking meters were installed.

The new EPark cap is screwed onto the parking meter post
Michael May installs the EPark cap

Ten years later, Impark brought pay-by-cellphone to parking lots in Edmonton. They had a transaction fee of 35 cents, but for many it was worth the convenience. Calgary was developing their parking system at that time and made the switch in 2007. Edmonton borrowed some machines from Calgary for a trial in June 2013, and after Council approval the following year, installed the first 16 EPark machines in October 2015.

EPark

Edmonton used to operate about 3,300 parking meters (159 of which were in the garage under City Hall) and collected nearly $15 million per year. The new EPark system was budgeted at $12 million to implement and is expected to increase revenues to about $22 million a year by 2018. More than 375 EPark machines now located in Edmonton, mostly around downtown, Old Strathcona, and 124 Street. The new system means there’s actually more space for parking (thanks to the removal of the lines) and will be more efficient for the City to operate and enforce. Prices can also be adjusted in response to demand.

Edmonton's last coin parking meter
Edmonton’s last coin parking meter

The final parking meter will be taken to the City Archives for safe keeping. If you want to keep a bit of parking history for yourself, you can buy one of the old meters:

“Citizens wanting to buy an existing parking meter, in ‘as is’ condition, at a cost of $100 per meter, are asked to contact 311 by May 31 to express their interest. The City is also hoping to sell the remainder of the meters to another municipality. The next step in the evolution of parking is the move towards automated enforcement with use of vehicle-mounted cameras later in 2016.”

You can learn more about EPark at the City’s website.

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.