The City of Edmonton is suggesting a new approach to control urban sprawl, which some city councillors say is crucial to keep the budget in line as the city struggles to provide basic services.
The substantial completion standard would require all developing areas to be built-out with appropriate amenities like retail stores, parks, and in some areas schools, libraries and recreation centres, before the city approves further developments.
The city’s urban planning and economy department outlined the standard requirements in a report to council’s urban planning committee Tuesday.
Of the 295 residential neighbourhoods in Edmonton, 91 are in the developing areas such as Ellerslie, the southwest, west Henday and the far northeast, the report says. Those neighbourhoods need to be completed before future growth areas, should council agree to the new standard.
Jo-Anne Wright, councillor for southeast Ward Sspomitapi, suggested some areas are still lacking programs, services and amenities.
“If we allow further development and urban sprawl, are we not just increasing that gap?” Wright asked.
The committee heard from several people who argued that industry has succeeded in creating denser neighbourhoods.
Chris Nicholas with the Urban Development Institute, Edmonton Metro region, said the city and industry have to figure out a way to create amenities faster.
“The ask is not to put a shovel in the ground, it’s to be ready because people are coming,” he told the committee.
“We’re doing a very good job at creating 15-minute cities, way better than we ever have.”
Wright disagreed with Nicholas, noting that in Laurel, there wasn’t a retail or commercial store in the entire neighbourhood last year, though a complex has since taken shape in the area.
“That to me isn’t a 15-minute community, that’s not what we’re looking for in the city plan,” Wright said.
Edmonton’s city plan aims to create neighbourhoods where residents are able to meet most of their needs — groceries, parks, and other services — within a 15-minute walk, bike or mode other than a motorized vehicle, from their home.
Wright noted several other neighbourhoods, like Decoteau and Aster are still being built-out.
Expectations not met
Kalen Anderson with the Urban Development Institute, Edmonton metro region, said she lives in a suburb built in 1920 and that it’s less dense than some of the new suburbs.
She said if the city halts new growth, developers could look outside the city borders.
“What we’re here to say is as the Urban Development Institute for the metro region, we don’t recommend that you do that,” Anderson said to committee. “But if you do, it will be a boon for the rest of the metro region.”
Coun. Ashley Salvador said communities have expectations about amenities and public sector investments, but the city is dealing with an infrastructure deficit.
“I don’t think we’ve been able financially to hold up our end of the bargain,” Salvador said. “We can’t deliver in the way that I think Edmontonians expect.”
Homeowners are facing a nearly five per cent property tax increase in each of the next three years, set by council at the last budget session in December.
Aaron Paquette, councillor for northeast Ward Dene, said even with the hike, the city is nowhere close to maintaining services with the current tax base and rate.
“So we either have to increase taxes by almost double to get to even, because right now we’re bleeding money and bleeding services as everyone can obviously tell,” he said during the meeting. “Or we have to find a new formula where we all sort of share that cost together.”
City councillors will continue discussing the options to manage the city’s growth. If they approve the substantial completion standard, administration will report back return to the committee before finalizing the standard in 2024.
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