Edmonton city council voted to expropriate a parcel of downtown land Friday, ensuring the space will be available for a park planned for the urban core.
The parcel is one of four that the city is buying with $28 million from the downtown community funding levy. The plan is to turn the existing gravel parking lots into a 1.25-hectare neighbourhood park north of Jasper Avenue, on both sides of 107 Street.
Allard Developments owns the parcel that will be expropriated and the company’s president, Brad Clough, said he wished there had been more of an opportunity to be able to explain to council why they should revisit the current planned footprint for the park.
“You feel absolutely powerless,” he said after the vote.
Before voting, council heard short presentations from Allard Developments, as well as from downtown community activists in favour of expropriation and other developers who purchased nearby land and were counting on the park being built.
Ian O’Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association, told council the park plan is key to encouraging development across downtown.
“At the moment, this is one of the most embarrassing parts of our downtown,” he said. “We can do better.”
The debate was also set against a dramatic backdrop of a legal countdown — Friday was council’s deadline to either vote for expropriation or the process would die.
Ward 6 Coun. Scott McKeen brought forward the motion for expropriation, and urged his fellow council members “not to blink” at the plan to create a park, which he said is key for attracting the residential growth that is envisioned for the area.
“The sidewalks aren’t going to roll up at five o’clock. It’s going to be a vibrant, active place, but we just sort of need that critical mass of people living downtown, and we’ve just given them another really good reason,” McKeen said.
He said Allard will be fairly compensated.
When the vote happened at about 5 p.m. Friday, it was nearly unanimous in favour.
Only Ward 7 Coun. Tony Caterina voted against expropriation. Caterina said he thought Allard’s request for a reconsideration was warranted, given the changes to the area since the plan for the park originated.
“I don’t think we’ve explored the other options at this point,” he said, speaking by teleconference during the hearing.
There was a plan to close 107 Street, but now that the central LRT line is expected to run along the street’s current path, that’s not certain anymore. Other nearby development changes also warrant another look, Caterina said, agreeing with arguments made by Allard Developments. Coun. Bev Esslinger was absent.
The park is part of a Downtown Public Places Plan, a which is available as a draft on the city’s website.
On Allard Development’s side was a ruling by an independent commissioner appointed by the province who in December found that the city’s expropriation move was “not sound.”
A park with a roadway and LRT line in the middle is not the “contiguous” park Edmonton’s planning documents call for, wrote inquiry officer Sharon Roberts. “This simply lacks a necessary air of reality.”
Council had to take Roberts’ ruling into consideration, but it wasn’t binding.
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