City planners are highly aware that one wrong step in dealing with neighbourhoods about major plans for future change can be like sneezing in the ear of a sleeping dragon.
Which is why Michael Strong is so proud of the City’s recent work with the Belgravia and McKernan communities as he and his team consulted about, prepared and then brought the McKernan-Belgravia Station Area Redevelopment Plan to Council.
The plan recently won a 2014 planning excellence award from the Alberta Professional Planners Association. (In fact, the City of Edmonton won three of six such awards this year.)
“We’re excited about the award,” says Michael, a Sustainable Development principal planner. “We didn’t do anything revolutionary, but we pulled together the best and most contemporary thinking for this area, and all of the lessons we’d learned in the past.”
Because of the consultative process Michael’s team used and the philosophies they employed, the plan will likely serve as a template for future planning for neighbourhoods around dozens of existing and future LRT stations.
Michael says the team started by recognizing that not all LRT station areas are the same, and that plans for redevelopment around each must be respectful of the nature of unique surrounding communities.
Belgravia and McKernan, for example, are primarily quiet, mature, single-family dwelling neighbourhoods.
“We wanted to preserve their core nature while recognizing that modestly-increased density was necessary because of how close they are to an LRT station,” says Michael.
Planners wanted the process to result in a plan that:
The McKernan-Belgravia plan envisions modest increases in residential density along two blocks east and west of the station on 76 Avenue, a few blocks along University Avenue, 71/72 Avenue near 114 Street, and 114th Street itself.
“We’re talking row or stacked row housing, four-storey apartment or condo developments – definitely not high-rises,” says Michael.
The plan also encourages redevelopment of the last two or three homes on each block next to the LRT line and 114th Street between University Avenue and Belgravia Road. New medium-density residential developments would face toward the shared use path and LRT line along 114 Street. New roadways behind the developments would provide access.
“That will give the community more housing choices and affordability, create a more attractive streetscape along 114 Street and help keep traffic to the outer edges of the community. The buildings will also provide a sound buffer against noises from vehicles, LRT trains and crossing bells.”
The plan does not call for the City to proactively rezone any property. In fact, the plan will be implemented as individual property owners or businesses apply for rezoning that conforms to the plan’s direction.
“In order for development to occur, developers will need to want to buy, and current owners will have to want to sell. When that happens, we’ll look at these proposals to ensure they fit within the long-term vision for the area’s future.
“And we’ll strongly encourage developers to consult with the community before they approach the City for rezoning and permits.”