Emerald Tower & Preview of Week to come

As many of you are aware, Council passed the development of the Jasper Ave Emerald Tower on week. I voted in favour of the development, but it was a difficult decision. I firstly voted for the project to be referred back a few months to attempt to increase the amount of affordable housing included in the project, where there is currently only 5% included. Ultimately however these types of ambitious projects are what we need as a City and Emerald Tower will be a huge boon for our downtown core.

Much has been made about our planning departments non support of this project. Administration’s issues were not with the size or density but rather the need for greater public contribution in return. The City however currently has no policy or guidelines to determine what kind of public contribution to expect. We need to establish this so that communities and developers understand the quid pro quo to increasing height and density. I’ll be pressing in the future to get these guidelines established so that in the future the city can stand on solid ground when negotiating “public benefit and contribution”.

The Emerald Tower is going to be a beautiful building, with room for hundreds of new residents to contribute to adding vibrancy to downtown. One of the key issues I and others raised in the debate was ensuring that space for small scale retail was included. The worst thing we can do with big buildings like this is to create a bland one dimensional commercial experience on the street. We made a shift requiring retail entry points to be 6 meters rather than 12 meters apart on the street. The expectation is that many retail tenants offering a mix of restaurants and shops will give this part of Jasper Avenue an active street life. All in all the Emerald promises downtown densification and street-level activity, which are crucial to creating a vibrant Edmonton. I appreciate the changes that the developer did make to the project, displaying a collaborative spirit in working with the City.

Looking ahead to this week’s meetings, we have a full docket, here are some key items;

Film Commission

Edmonton has been without a film commissioner since March 2015, and we are also looking for a new plan of attack for the film commission itself. The role of the commission needs to be rethought in order to properly support local media production. An updated film commission is needed to promote and advocate for Edmonton media and keep our film scene strong.

Blatchford

In February 2016, City Council expressed interest in establishing a Renewable Energy Utility with EPCOR. Next week at Executive Committee we’ll be getting a report providing the general framework and conditions for the Memorandum of Understanding between the City and EPCOR. With the Blatchford carbon-neutral project, the City has an opportunity to be a leader on the world stage in fighting climate change and transitioning to renewable energy.

Municipal Government Act

The MGA was recently modernized, and as part of its review process we’ll be looking into creating increased powers for the protection of mature trees. The City amended Bylaw 12800 to allow for greater incentives for homeowners in maintaining these trees, but more power in this regard is needed. Mature trees are essential to our City, I’ve waxed at length about them in another blog post: http://bit.ly/294o5iW.

Century Park

Century Park has been a focal point for the Park and Ride debate in addition to being one of the City’s premier Transit Oriented Development (TOD) sites. We are still short of our vision for the site, and as such we will continue in negotiations with developers to achieve that vision. 75% of the current Park and Ride stalls will be lost in 2020 so we’re looking at alternative options such as express bus services, a potential LRT station on 40th Ave, and more. Stay tuned for future Transportation Committee reports related to Century Park and Park and Ride on September 28th and December 7th.