'Exposed and ugly' vacant lot on Jasper Avenue an eyesore, resident says
Developer says there’s good reason for site’s appearance
Murray Billett has called a prime piece of real estate on downtown Edmonton's main drag home for 15 years.
Just a block south of Jasper Avenue, Billett lives steps away from trendy shops, restaurants and the river valley.
But when he looks out the window of his high-rise home, he sees something he says doesn't belong in the Oliver neighbourhood: an excavated lot that's a "filthy, dirty mess."
The site on the northeast corner of Jasper Avenue and 114th Street has been vacant since the Canadian Western Bank that used to occupy the space was demolished in 2016.
Billett said it's a black eye on one of Edmonton's busiest streets.
"What a hot, embarrassing mess," he told CBC News on Monday.
"Regency Developments started developing this place four years ago, and it continues to be an eyesore not just for our community, but for anybody who visits our community."
The fenced lot has exposed shoring and a large pool of rainwater, but will eventually boast a 45-storey residential building called Emerald Tower.
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"Regency Developments just is failing on all fronts when they leave this exposed and ugly for all to see," Billett said.
"There's a swamp in the middle of it. All we need is a couple of kids to jump over the fence there. Not only could they boat on the water in there, but they could drown in the water."
There's a reason for its appearance, said Regency's chief operating officer, Raj Dhunna.
"There's a lot more to the story of the way the site looks than just a simple, 'Oh, the developer left it in a mess,'" Dhunna said.
Site needed extensive cleaning
The company hit a speed bump after learning the site had once been home to both a dry cleaner and a gas station.
Regency had to clean the soil to meet development permit requirements. The cleaning process started early this year and wrapped up at the start of summer.
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"The cleaning efforts have been more extensive than previously thought and that's basically why you see the site in the condition it is today," Dhunna said.
Each month, Regency contractors check that the land is tidy, he said. They've worked to eliminate the standing water, flattening the land and pumping excess water off the site.
Dhunna is hoping construction on Emerald Tower can begin next summer if all goes well with the permit approval process.
Billett said he'd like to see grass or community gardens on the site while it sits vacant, but that might not be realistic.
"Until we know we have the approvals for a clean site, it's very difficult to say, 'OK, well, let's go backfill it,' only to have to go dig it up again," Dhunna said.
While the plot of dirt and weeds might be an eyesore, there's not much the city can do. It has some authority over safety standards, but doesn't have the legislative teeth to tell developers to make their vacant lots attractive.
"The city does not have the authority to compel a property owner to develop their land," city spokesperson Karen Burgess said in an emailed statement.
"The Community Standards Bylaw ensures that minimum property standards are met, which include nuisance on land concerns such as standing water that may pose a safety risk, long grass and weeds."
The city will send an inspector to the site to ensure there aren't any issues, Burgess said Monday.
Coun. Scott McKeen said barren construction zones detract from neighbourhoods.
"Were it that I had a sharp, pointy … legal stick that I could use, I would definitely use it," he said. "But we don't seem to have that authority. It's really frustrating."