Edmonton city council approves proposal for Strathcona highrises

Edmonton city council approved a contentious two-tower rezoning proposal in Strathcona at Monday's public hearing, despite resident's concerns.

Property owner hopes to start selling condos soon, before two-year construction

A rendering of the two proposed high-rises in the Strathcona neighbourhood at 89th Avenue at 99th Street. (City of Edmonton)

Edmonton city council approved a contentious two-tower rezoning proposal in Strathcona at Monday's public hearing, despite residents concerns.

"I think once people realize what they're going to have in the end they'll be a lot more accepting of what we're doing," said Michael Bateman of Bateman Properties.

"It's kind of surreal that it has come to this. It's what we wanted at the end of the day, to move forward and get going on the project."

The 15- and 18-storey towers were proposed for 89th Avenue at 99th Street by Bateman Properties and ONE Properties. Currently, the area is zoned for medium-height buildings with most no taller than six storeys. It was originally planned as a 31-storey tower, but that proposal was voted down by the city a year ago. The two companies made a new plan based on the concerns of city council and residents.

Bateman plans to have the Wild Earth Bakery & Cafe move in to the main floors of the towers, along with a grocery store and a wine bar. 

"We want to be back up and running for the community as soon as possible," said Bateman. "To bring the services back is my priority."

Michael Bateman of Bateman Properties says his late father, Bob, wanted him to develop the property at 99th Street and 89th Avenue. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

The main issues that arose during the consultation process, which started in November 2016, were traffic, walkability, safety impacts, shadow effects, comparative building height and whether the towers would set a precedent for future developments.

Council voted 9-3 to approve the rezoning.

Ward 8 Coun. Ben Henderson voiced concern that approval of the towers would lead to similar developments. He called the approval process a "glorious opportunity" to get it right.

"We get so attracted by these highrise buildings that we don't recognize that there's another way to create density in this city," Henderson said. "And it raises the question of, 'Where would we not build a highrise?' "

Henderson said there's a "larger piece to this puzzle" that can't be about densification at all costs, it has to be about densification done properly, he said. 

He said he is concerned with the bigger picture: the livability of the area.

"I really worry if we vote for this, we will seriously undermine what I think was developing really well along that way," he said. 

Ward 4 Coun. Aaron Paquette said he hopes to make the plan work for everyone involved.

"We want the developer to be happy because they want to put an investment in the city — that's great," Paquette said.

"But we also want the community to be happy and really, that's what we are as a city — we're just a bunch of communities, and so that's who we're looking out for more than anything else."

Change and compromise

Jan Olson, a member of the Strathcona community league, said people in the area know their neighbours.

"When we speak of our community, we're not speaking of how my individual house is going to be affected," she said. "We're speaking of ourselves as a social context, a social entity, and how that is so important to keep alive in Edmonton."

Elinor Burwash lives on 91st Avenue east of 99th Street, and is concerned about the shadows that could be cast by the towers.

"I bought my house 30 years ago because of the light," Burwash said, adding that she'd like to stay in the area because she worked so hard to renovate her home. Burwash acknowledged that change is coming, regardless.

She said it's important that 99th Street is kept walkable and livable. 

Elinor Burwash lives in Strathcona and is concerned about the shadows created by the proposed towers. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

"We want families in our neighbourhood. I think the grocery store is a real boon to us … so I think a mixed use helps to contribute to that kind of neighbourhood," she said.

Burwash said the developer has been listening to what community members want and is making modifications accordingly. Overall, she supports the proposal, albeit grudgingly.

"I think if we want the grocery store and the other amenities, then we have to compromise."

Bakery and cafe expected to move

Bateman's sister owns the popular Wild Earth Bakery & Cafe, which is currently the only business operating in the buildings on the property. Bateman said they're planning to move the cafe to a nearby location with the hopes that it will move back in once the towers are completed. It's not yet known when the cafe will end up moving.

Bateman said he expects construction of the towers to take two years.

With files from Natasha Riebe