“I’m really angry.”
Those three words sum up Coun. Ben Henderson’s feelings after city council voted 9-3 in favour of approving the rezoning that will allow the construction of a sixteen storey pedestal and tower, a half block south of Whyte ave on 105th street.
“I don’t understand why we do planning if we’re just going to ignore it for these one off things,” said complaining that an area restructuring plan is underway to set new rules for Old Strathcona. Opponents said the rectangular tower will overpower Whyte, even though it’s not right on the avenue.
“It’s half a block, it’s the other side of the lane,” Henderson said. “If you think you’re not going to have a sense of a sixteen storey building that is that wide behind the historic post office…if you’re not going to have any sense of that building you’re kidding yourself.”
The building’s pedestal will have retail, including an incubator program with the U of A School of Business said planner Simon O’Byrne of Stantec. It will also he hopes kick start new development.
“The trouble is a generation ago we had half the number of people working or studying in the University area. That’s effectively doubled in the last generation. But the amount of housing we’ve added to the area hasn’t really increased. Basically ninety percent of the housing in the area was built before the Oilers even won the first Stanley Cup.”
Twenty nine units in the apartment tower above will be dedicated to affordable housing. That was one turning point that attracted city council’s attention.
“It’s going to bring a lot more people to the neighbourhood because it’s going to have a lot more destination retail and activity in this building, plus hundreds of households including families with children,” said Mayor Don Iveson. “I think those additional people that additional traffic is good for the neighbourhood, good for business, good for vibrancy.”
“What better time is there now to do this?” said Coun. Dave Loken. “We have a city where we’re growing like crazy, we’re running out of space, we’re densifying everywhere, we’re infilling in neighborhoods, we’re upsetting people everywhere because of this infill that we’re doing.”
Critics however like Shirley Lowe, a past executive director of the Old Strathcona Business Association, said this will now trigger other changes that will overwhelm the area. “All those other buildings are now vulnerable because there’s only so much money you can make out of 2,000 sq ft.” she said before leaving prior to the vote was final seeing the writing on the wall. “But if you can knock that down and build something else, over a period of time it changes the character. It’s been done, it’s land economics. That’s how it will go. No matter how much you want to set a precedent, you’ve done it.”
One last step is needed before construction. The tower will go once more through the city’s design committee. Then the development permit will be issued. Developer Mathew McLash of Westoak Development wants to get going this construction season because there’s a limited time on his financing O’Byrne said.