Edmonton

4 new highrises win approval from Edmonton city council

Edmonton city council has given the green light to two major apartment complexes with a total of four highrises, paving the way for construction of up to 1,500 new residential units in Oliver and the downtown core.

2 of the buildings would be third and sixth tallest in city if built today

A two-tower apartment complex on Jasper Avenue at 115th Street was one of two major projects approved by city council on Thursday. (Kirkor)

Edmonton city council has given the green light to two major apartment complexes with a total of four highrises, paving the way for construction of up to 1,500 new residential units in Oliver and the downtown core.

A two-tower apartment complex was approved on Thursday for the former Edmonton Motors site in Oliver, on the southeast corner of Jasper Avenue and 115th Street. The developers behind the project are Pangman Development Corp. and John Day Developments.

A second two-tower complex, proposed by Edgar Development, was also given the go-ahead for downtown at 102nd Avenue and 106th Street.

The Oliver highrises will tower over the neighbourhood at 170 metres and 140 metres, collectively adding roughly 800 units to the area.

If the buildings existed today, the towers would be the third and sixth largest buildings in Edmonton. The developers behind the project are Pangman Development Corp. and John Day Developments. 

Coun. Scott McKeen said if council is going to approve tall high-density projects, they should be along arterial roadways and near transit. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

An eight-storey podium of small commercial units — intended to attract local retailers over big box stores — will face Jasper Avenue and row houses will front onto 115th Street. The building will be set back two metres from Jasper Avenue, satisfying the city's plans to prioritize pedestrians along the busy arterial roadway.

Coun. Scott McKeen said exceptional design and the developer's commitment to improving the surrounding space with trees and accessible pathways helped earn his vote.

"If we are putting high density and height somewhere, it should be on our major arterials and on our transit routes, and this is a clear opportunity," he said.

The plan faced some backlash from local residents at the public hearing.

Fasika Aklilu, an emergency physician who lives along 115th Street with her family, said the project was "developer driven" and took exception with the size of the towers.

The towers are far taller than the 12-storey height restrictions set out by the Oliver area redevelopment plan, a policy document dating back to 1997.

"The current proposal, the scale of it, is beyond human scale," Aklilu said.

Dr. Fasika Aklilu raised concerns about the height and scale of the now approved Oliver apartment complex at a public hearing on Thursday. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

City planners, in a report outlining their support for the project, noted that multiple towers have been built or approved above existing zoning restrictions, including a 160-metre tower just east of the site.  

But Aklilu said the developer, and the city, should have explored more medium-density options for the site that conform to the existing zoning.

Coun. Aaron Paquette, the lone dissenting voice on council, agreed with Aklilu. He commended the developer and the design, but said he wanted to see a creative medium-density proposal for the site.

Councillors also approved another major apartment complex on Thursday, even though the rezoning application failed to get the support of city administration.

Edgar Development proposed building two highrises — roughly 40 storeys and 36 storeys, respectively — on 102nd Avenue and 106th Street, adding 700 units to the downtown core.

The developer and councillors ended up drafting an amendment in the midst of the public hearing, addressing some concerns from city planners.

The plan initially called for a narrow sidewalk along 102nd Avenue, less than the recommended 1.5 metres. But the amendment ensures the sidewalk, which faces a future Valley Line West LRT station and bike lane, is at least two metres wide.

"It would have been snug before," McKeen said. "It's the difference between a nice, wide downtown sidewalk … versus funnelling people through this tight area, which I thought would have been horrendous with an LRT stop close by."

An amendment was drafted in the midst of a public hearing on Thursday that would ensure the developer of a downtown apartment complex widen the sidewalks that front onto 102nd Avenue. (Edgar Developments)

City planners had also taken exception to the developer's plan for two levels of "unwrapped" above-ground parking. A report said the parking would be incompatible with plans for the surrounding area, including a large downtown park across the street.

The developer pledged to eventually turn the parking into residential units, but never offered a timeline for the transition.

The amendment says the parking stalls can't be rented to people who don't live in the building — also known as non-accessory parking — once both towers are finished. The design of the screening around the parking lot also has to be reviewed by a development officer, in consultation with the design committee, to ensure it's visually appealing.

"We don't want it to look like hell," said McKeen. "We don't want it to scream, 'there are cars parked behind here.' We want it to look cool."

Council also sent a proposal for a controversial three-tower apartment complex in the historic Old Strathcona area to the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board for review. Coun. Ben Henderson said he expects the project will be back before council for approval in July.

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