About 60 residents packed Edmonton's city hall Friday for a chance to address councillors over a bylaw that would see significant development at Holyrood Gardens, the site of a new Valley Line LRT stop.
The plan would see three highrise towers that could reach as tall as 22 storeys, and four mid-rise towers built at Holyrood Gardens.
The site, which runs along 85th Street between 95th Avenue and 90th Avenue, has been designated as a neighbourhood station for the new light rail line.
The new development is slated to include up to 1,200 living units, street-level commercial space, underground parking and public green spaces.
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Holyrood is one of the first neighbourhoods in Edmonton to incorporate a transit-oriented design (TOD) and members of the community league say they want to make sure it's done right.
"We are not saying no, we are saying we can do a lot better," said Holyrood Development Committee member David Sutherland in a written statement.
"We are not just thinking of our own neighbourhood. The outcome of this hearing will shape future discussions for TOD proposals."
'It's a lesson to us too'
Members of the Holyrood Community League are urging council to refer the development proposal back to public hearings to be reworked.
According to league president Wendy Weir, a key issue for residents is what they see as a lack of public consultation on the part of the city and developer.
"Community engagement around the Holyrood Gardens application has been lacklustre at best, flawed at worst," she said.
"Our community went in having faith in the engagement process but instead found that we were not a truly valued stakeholder."
Nancy MacDonald is an urban planner with Stantec, one of the developers on the project.
'Our community went in having faith in the engagement process but instead found that we were not a truly valued stakeholder.'
- Wendy Weir, President of the Holyrood Community League
She says over the past year they've done their due diligence in trying to engage with the community.
"We did a lot of engagement throughout the process. We used different methods, different approaches," she said.
"We've had opportunities for input and we've taken that input and made a lot of changes in terms of the concept."
It's an issue Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said he plans to address moving forward.
"It's a lesson to us too. If we have better public engagement earlier on in the process, that tends to create stronger buy-in, or at least acceptance, even if people aren't thrilled about it", Iveson said.
"Here we're seeing droves of people, which is an indication that the community is nonplussed with the way the process unfolded and that's an important signal for us to hear as well."
Not in my backyard
Residents also spoke about their concerns over increased traffic congestion in the area, what they see as the overly large footprint of the proposed towers and a perception that the units won't be family-friendly or affordable.
Holyrood Gardens is currently the site of about 160 townhouses, many of which cater to low-income Edmontonians.
Rob Bernshaw has been living there for the past 14 years.
While he admits the existing housing is getting run down, he worries about maintaining affordable housing on the site.
"I moved in there because it was affordable" he said.
"The developer's definition of affordable is a higher level than what a fixed-income person can afford."
MacDonald says there is a plan in place to potentially transition those residents into the new development.
"We've been talking with the people who are actually in the units now for about the last year," she said.
"The intent is to potentially move those people to another phase of the project. "
One of the major challenges to developing the site is its long, narrow shape.
In the future, Iveson said he plans to make it mandatory for any major development application to go through the city's design committee before coming to council.
The purpose, he said, is to address such unique design challenges earlier in the process.
Council will continue the public hearing on the redevelopment of Holyrood Gardens on Nov. 27.