Edmonton

City proposes rezoning to reignite development at Station Pointe

City council will look at rezoning land along Edmonton’s Fort Road in a bid to reignite development in the long-stagnant area.

Lowering density aimed at spurring development along Fort Road

Station Pointe along Fort Road between 66th Street and 127th Avenue remains largely undeveloped despite a 15-year-old plan to turn it into an urban village. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

City council will consider rezoning land along Fort Road in northeast Edmonton next week in a bid to reignite development in the long-stagnant area.

Administration is pushing for changes that would scale back zoning density requirements for areas within the planned urban village of Station Pointe.

The proposals will be discussed at a public hearing Tuesday.

High-density residential would be scrapped for more flexible low and medium rise multi-unit housing while some commercial uses would also be allowed on the ground floor of residential units.

The four areas cited for rezoning are owned by the city and currently sit vacant, 16 years after the city first launched Station Pointe in collaboration with the Fort Road community.

"The existing … provisions are very prescriptive and ambitious, as they were developed during a more prosperous economic time," administration says in a report recommending the changes.

Work on public lands within Station Pointe has been completed, including roadways, sidewalks, public plazas, servicing infrastructure and a safety wall buffering the nearby CN rail tracks. 

But private investment is lacking — a partially-built five-storey complex has sat vacant for years, after its developer went into receivership. A court order last September allowed construction to resume.

Coun. Aaron Paquette has said the city's requirements were onerous to developers as they called for expensive commercial and residential towers within an average-income neighbourhood.

"A lot of builders just didn't see the return on investment there," Paquette said in July.

Development of this residential building in Station Pointe is on hold. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

In 2018, council directed administration to explore the barriers and opportunities for encouraging development at Station Pointe. Administration returned a report that suggested the primary antagonist was the too-prescriptive direct development control zoning requirements.

The report was followed by a market study from third-party Altus Group, focusing on the areas that have remained vacant. Delivered in January 2019, it did not paint a pretty picture.

"In summary, the location of the subject lands as a residential destination can be concluded to be quite challenging," it said.

"While it benefits from significant employment nodes close by and from easy access to the LRT, it is negatively impacted by the adjacent railway lines and industrial areas, dilapidated street-front retail across Fort Road, undesirable sidewalks and streetscapes, the nature of much of the commercial uses along Fort Road and by limited pedestrian activity."

The study also concluded that there was little appetite for suburban office development as vacancy rates of existing spaces were at all-time highs in Edmonton. 

Retail market space was also highly oversupplied for the demand that might be generated in the area.

Areas A, B, D, and E are all being cited for rezoning. Area C is occupied by an unfinished apartment construction. (City of Edmonton)

The Altus Group also report looked at population demographics in surrounding communities. Many residents were 50 or older but people between the ages of 30 and 40 were underrepresented, as were children under 14.

"The age profile … is indicative of an area that has experienced very limited new housing construction recently and very little influx of first-time home buyers and starter families," the report said.

Less than nine per cent of existing dwellings in the area had been constructed after 2001, compared to Edmonton's comparative market average of 33.1 per cent.

Forty-five per cent of households had incomes under $60,000, compared with 34 per cent for the Edmonton area — "a level of income much more associated with retiree and renter households."

Based on the study's demand projection, the lands were predicted to have the potential to support a maximum of about 80 multi-family units per year from 2020 to 2026.

"This means that large-scale projects (of approximately 150 units or more) will be very challenging to develop … and hence, development timeframes to full build-out of the subject lands are likely to extend beyond 2026."

The final recommendation: plan for lower densities in a phased approach.

City administration initiated the rezoning application after concluding that the most suitable zoning for the vacant lands would be standard low-rise apartments. 

The application was later revised to include medium-rise apartments for the area closest to the Belvedere Transit Centre.

Public supports development

The city held public engagement sessions — in May 2019 and January of this year — and found consensus that the vacant parcels should be developed.

People said they wanted larger commercial amenities such as a grocery store. But larger format stores are not considered under the current or proposed zoning.

Administration admits "there is some concern" that the standard zones proposed will not result in the mix of residential and commercial development hoped for by the community.

Current zoning calls for a mix of uses while the proposed changes list commercial uses as allowable but not required.

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