EDMONTON - Edmonton developers are working on a proposal that will eventually see 68,000 people living on what’s now mainly farmland south of Mill Woods.
It’s the city’s last unplanned corner, almost 2,000 rolling hectares dotted with hundreds of ponds, marshes and sloughs.
Engineers, urban planners, transportation experts and representatives from real estate companies spent hours at a city council hearing last week presenting their vision of a mixed-use region linked by interconnected wetlands, parks and open spaces.
“It will provide an extraordinary asset for the future residents of the Decoteau (area),” said Stantec Consulting Ltd. planner Nancy MacDonald.
“It will establish a legacy for the southeast.”
But not everyone is happy with the blueprint created over the past 2 1/2 years.
A half-dozen small landowners, who generally weren’t involved in producing the plan, complained to councillors the maps show a disproportionate number of undevelopable wetlands on their property.
They fear that will cut the value of their investment and favour the big players.
Marilyn Loh and her husband Leonard own 20 hectares of farmland near Edmonton’s southern boundary that includes a 100-year-old stand of aspen.
One field is wrongly identified as an environmentally protected wetland, she said.
“By putting environmental reserve on my land, you are signifying to a purchaser … they can buy my land without having to pay me any compensation for that wetland,” she told councillors.
“We love our land, and we agree there is a wetland there. We don’t know how much is there.”
Several councillors also want to create a more sustainable city by boosting Decoteau’s projected population density, which Coun. Michael Walters said “kind of bobs along around the minimum.”
Industry experts insisted the current blueprint is a high-level estimate, and the number of residents will likely grow slightly once plans are prepared for individual neighbourhoods.
That’s also when details about the location and number of wetlands being preserved will be worked out, they say.
But most councillors aren’t satisfied with the bylaw as it stands.
They sent it back so city staff and the proponents can consider increasing density and employment space, as well as review wetland and natural area maps.
The issue is scheduled to return to council March 16.
If councillors like the proposal, they can pass two of the three required readings, but before becoming law it needs approval by the Capital Region Board.
What is Decoteau?
Decoteau is an area structure plan for Edmonton’s southeast urban growth area.
Decoteau’s boundaries are 50th Street, Ellerslie Road-Anthony Henday Drive, Meridian Street (Strathcona County border) and 41st Avenue SW (Leduc County border).
An area structure plan lays out the framework for future development, showing where homes, shops and offices should be, proposed population density and the general location of roads and utilities.
There will be five communities in the area, with specifics laid out in the neighbourhood plans.
Seven companies are behind the proposal, including Brookfield Residential and Rohit Land Development. They own about 25 per cent of the land.
Lots of land, lots of people
Decoteau contains 1,960 hectares, or almost 20 square kilometres.
It’s expected to have a population of 67,813 people, with construction starting in 2016 and finishing about 30 years later.
Almost three-quarters of the residents will have single-family homes, while nearly 20 per cent will live in apartments and the rest in row houses.
Planners hope some will work nearby in the 100-hectare business district, which will be set aside for light industry and an office park.
There’s space for a town centre that could someday be an LRT stop on 50th Street at Ellerslie Road.
A 30-hectare district park that will eventually feature a recreation centre lies further east.
Special water features
About 200 hectares of wetlands are identified as environmental reserves, in addition to 253 hectares for schools, parks and open spaces.
Ecologically fragile spaces have been protected, with a buffer space around them as shelter from surrounding development.
They’ll be linked by shared use trails and sidewalks, as well as natural corridors for animals and plants.
How many is too many?
The area is projected to average 30.6 homes for each hectare of residential land.
That’s within the region’s targets, but some councillors want the figure to go higher.
While the proponents of the area structure plan say they can add one or two homes per hectare without much problem, they’re leery of major increases.
One concern is that there isn’t an LRT line sketched in to move the extra people, as there is in the northeast Horse Hill.
New district, same busy streets
Just because it’s a new location, don’t think you’ll escape fellow motorists.
A traffic impact study anticipates intersections along 17th Street and 50th Street, including at Anthony Henday Drive, will be congested at rush hour.
That’s just to be expected in a growing city like Edmonton, transportation planners say.
Anyway, this crowded future doesn’t arrive until the area is completed decades from now. There could be flying cars by then.
Follow the money
Decoteau by itself will be a big financial loser for the city, as other suburbs tend to be.
One study indicates the city will spend nearly $3 billion in the area over 50 years building, maintaining and operating roads, transit, garbage, police and other services.
But it will only collect about $2.5 billion from Decoteau in fees, taxes, grants and utility charges.
However, the study concludes Edmonton will be in the black as long as it continues to develop higher-tax commercial projects elsewhere.