Edmonton city council OKs 23-storey tower for small lot in Oliver

More than a year after being rejected by Edmonton city council, a developer was back at city hall to pitch a modified 23-storey tower for the Oliver district.

Developer modified plan from a 30-storey tower to 23-storey tower in mature neighbourhood

Westrich Pacific Corporation returned to city council Monday to pitch a 23-storey tower on a small lot in Oliver.

Edmonton city council has approved a controversial project for a small lot in Oliver after hours of discussion at a public hearing on Monday.

Councillors Sarah Hamilton, Scott McKeen and Ben Henderson voted against the proposal, and in line with city administration's recommendation to reject the project, for the first two votes. But the council vote in favour was unanimous for third and final reading.

Opponents said the 23-storey tower was too much density for the two single-family-home lot on 99th Avenue and 111th Street. Many councillors were struggling with the final decision. 

McKeen said there were are a lot of reasons to like the project, but added the area is very different from other parts of Oliver and downtown.

"This is a huge ask for us to stray from our plans and our planning principles," McKeen said. 
Councillors Jon Dziadyk, Scott McKeen and Sarah Hamilton listen to presentations on the 23-storey tower project near the Grandin LRT station. (CBC)

It's a downscale version of the 30-storey tower Westrich Pacific Corporation had proposed in 2017 for the mature neighbourhood of Grandin in Edmonton's Oliver district, which council rejected. 

Richard Bernstein, with Vancouver-based Chris Dikeakos Architects, is working with Westrich and was at city hall Monday to pitch the revised project.

He described the design as slim and elegant. 

"We feel this is an appropriately scaled development," Bernstein said. "It's much more neighbourly."

The tower, called The View, would be on a 16,000-sq.-ft. lot.

It would contain 178 suites, a mix of one-bedroom and two bedroom suites, with about a dozen three and four-bedroom apartments.

David Sanche, a director with developer Westrich, said the company has worked hard to build a "sensitive building." 
David Sanche, a director with Westrich Pacific Corporation, said the company has worked with the Oliver community league to create an improved tower design. (CBC)

"It's a unique design," he told reporters on Monday. "We believe it fits in really well, we believe it's good for the city."

Developers increased the distance between the proposed tower and a residential building to the south called the Madison. The tower would sit 10.5 metres away as opposed to the original five metres.

The revised pitch includes the company buying part of the lane off 111th Street.

'We're not against development'

The proposal is not going over well with some residents in the area, including Randi Mewhort, who lives in The Madison.

Mewhort said closing the lane would cut off vehicle access to the buildings. Traffic in the 99th Avenue and 111th Street area is already congested, residents noted.

Mewhort said the proposed tower would loom over her northwest apartment and block the sky.

"We're not against development, what we're against is bad design and poor choices in development," she said. "This is really an overdevelopment of a small site."

The developers lauded the transit-oriented location, which is 200 metres away from the Grandin LRT station. 
Randi Mewhort said a 23-storey tower on the lot to the north of her apartment building would block the sky and complicate traffic and parking. (CBC)

Sanche said the companies worked with the community league to adjust the design so it fits in with the neighbourhood.

"That's where we've worked with Oliver, tirelessly for the past year," he said.

Lisa Brown, president of the Oliver Community League, said the league is taking a "neutral" position on the development.

"We just want to give some recognition that they've reduced the height of the tower, they've increased the east and south set backs."

As a residential neighbourhood, it's important the tower is further back from the street, she said.

"We're seeing a lot of sites coming up for rezoning," Brown said. "So it's really important for us as a community league to work with developers and see positive changes come through."

Westrich said other towers, like the 43-storey Encore on 102nd Avenue and 103th Avenue, are higher on similar sized lots.

'The missing middle'

City administration does not support the proposed bylaw. The sustainable development branch noted the bylaw would allow a highrise on a small site, which doesn't comply with the city's plan for infill.

The current policy only allows row housing and low apartments up to four storeys on those kind of sites.

Staff said they would likely support a similar project on Jasper Avenue.

McKeen said the project was giving some council members "palpitations." He noted that mature neighbourhoods need the missing middle infill — row housing and townhouses — and a large tower would likely drive up real estate values and deter other developers from building infill.

Westrich has a sales centre ready to open in October, with the goal of starting to build in 2019.


About the Author

Natasha Riebe


Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.


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