Surplus School Sites - To Build or Not To Build

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Infill has been a much talked about issue during the election campaign, and is a topic I want to clarify my position on as your Ward 9 candidate.

First of all, we need to distinguish between Infill and Affordable and Supportive Housing. Infill is all about density. It might include affordable or supportive housing, but it doesn’t by default. Lot-splitting is about density, but it sure isn’t about affordability.

Conceptually, I support infill. Infill development reduces urban sprawl, and allows us to better leverage our existing assets and resources. We can use the roads, bridges and buildings we have already built to serve more people, and thereby save money.

Infill development contributes to our ability to be better stewards of the environment. Both of these aspects appeal to me as an engineer and as a fiscal conservative – stretching our existing assets and resources further just makes sense. I am a firm support of positive, value added development, that results in responsible, balanced, thriving residential communities.

But.

I do not believe in a “one size fits all” approach for any city wide initiative, particularly on something as sensitive as this. And I believe that any infill project must consider the content and character of the community in which it is going to be built. Such infill development must be undertaken with clear, effective communication and with full transparency and consultation with the residents of the affected neighborhood.

Which is why what happened with the surplus school sites in Ward 9 cannot ever happen again!

There are approximately 160 undeveloped school sites in Edmonton. In 2006, 20 sites were designated as surplus by the school boards identified to the local communities. 20 more were designated surplus in 2009. Many of these sites are in various stages of redevelopment, while other sites await development decisions.

When the First Choice program was announced, it quickly became clear that the process was extremely flawed. These surplus school site projects were not proposed developments – these were “done deals.” No discussion, no consultation, no community input. Citizens in our neighborhoods were denied the opportunity to provide input and feedback into this very dramatic change in the development plan for their neighborhood.

As your Councillor, I will not ever support a process or decision that denies the opportunity for community input.

With respect to infill of existing open spaces, I think we need to expand the conversation to talk about park space and play space. We need to define play space and park space as distinct and separate community resources, and ensure that all of our neighborhoods have equitable access to both. A key focus of my campaign has been on building better communities. That includes space for families to exercise and spend time outdoors.

The City continues to work on its “Breathe” framework, which seeks to provide direction for the sustainable care and expansion of Edmonton’s open areas. Breathe espouses the same values I am expressing here, which is in conflict with the rush to density and the plan to redevelop significant amounts of existing play space.

In Ward 9, construction is proceeding on one site in Haddow. An adjacent site has not been declared surplus, but there are no plans for a school. Two sites were consolidated in Brookview, with construction slated to begin in 2018. A site in Ogilvie is currently the subject of a significant consultation process. A site in Henderson Park will remain dormant until the Ogilvie consultation process is completed and evaluated.

As your Councillor, I will not support redevelopment of Henderson Estates Park. Henderson Park provides the only opportunity in Henderson Estates or Falconer where you can kick a ball, fly a kite or build a snowbank ice rink. It simply does not make sense to consume that play space in that community. I would not support redevelopment of a second site in Haddow Park. Countless kids in these neighbourhoods have benefited from this park, including with the Green Shack program in the summer months.

I also believe that the City should listen to what the community wants when it comes to Ogilvie Ridge. If that means moving the building site at a modest cost to the city in the context of a building intended to last 100 years, then we should listen to the community and spend the money.

We cannot pursue infill development at any cost, consequences be damned. We cannot make such dramatic planning and zoning changes without fully considering the impacts on neighborhoods. And we certainly cannot pursue these developments without careful, collaborative, open communication and consultation with the residents whose neighborhoods we are so drastically changing.

I believe in thoughtful decision making that respects the wishes of the community, and that is the approach I would take on infill and surplus sites if elected as your Ward 9 councillor.