Since 2008, a lot has been said about Blatchford, the redevelopment of the downtown airport lands. Today we are closer than ever to shovels in the ground and the vision of creating an environmentally smart, sustainable, and economically feasible community. With the conversation freshly renewed, and top of mind for many Edmontonians, I’d like to offer my thoughts as to where we currently are in the discussion on Blatchford.
The deal between Council and Edmontonians for the Blatchford redevelopment was that we create an innovative neighbourhood for 30,000 Edmontonians in the heart of our City. We were to show the rest of the world that we are cutting edge. At the same time, citizens expect that we build a fiscally responsible community, that fits the housing expectations of Edmontonians.
Recently, it has become clear to me that many of you are concerned that we are not holding up our end of the deal as the reports being debated at Council yesterday were slightly different from the original Perkins + Will concept plan that was selected by Council in 2012.
The altered scenario recommended to Council, which is one that I support, maintains all key design elements of the original Perkins + Will concept plan. It includes: medium-density residential developments throughout, with high-density high rise residential being located in close proximity to the NAIT LRT Station and town centre. There is a large civic centre with mixed-use development and active urban streetscapes, a district park encompassing 19% of the site area (a standard suburban development only allots 10% of its area for park space). The plan also includes urban agriculture, low-impact development measures, affordable housing options, and a district energy system, which still may be 100% renewable energy driven.
As the development moved from a concept plan to something more concrete, changes had to be made, and were bound to be made. The reduction in high rise condo towers is to ensure that Blatchford remains competitive with the rest of Edmonton, and that the rest of Edmonton remains competitive with Blatchford. The market for high rise condos in Edmonton is still quite small when compared to our larger urban counterparts.
The goals of the pneumatic waste system, costing $91 million, though very innovative, are already achieved through the new Enerkem facility which allows the City of Edmonton to divert 90% of residential waste from the landfill. The proposed biomass facility, costing $157 million, on the northeastern corner of Blatchford is logistically impractical for two reasons. The first being that development in Blatchford will be occurring away from the biomass facility for the first 15 years; we would therefore have to build out the utility infrastructure for the entire site to connect to the north eastern biomass facility. The second reason is that we would not be able to store the amount of fuel needed to supply a facility big enough to provide power to 30,000 Edmontonians on site. Three tonnes of wood chips are needed to fuel a small biomass facility such as Strathcona County’s Biomass facility each day. This equates to roughly 2 million cubic feet of wood chips a year, or to put it into perspective, 22 olympic size swimming pools; this number is surely to be much greater due to the expected size of Blatchford.
Some criticism will emerge that "council has scaled back on the green features" to save money on this project. The truth is that we have removed redundant and unrealistic features from the plan. These features detailed above would have resulted in over $200 million of net loss on the total project. This sort of fiscal scenario was never part of the contract we had with citizens and was certainly never discussed during the extensive public engagement. Additionally this would be $200 million that council would have to pay for in our capital budget and we simply do not have this kind of money.
I can assure you that I am still committed to delivering what was promised. I am committed to environmentally innovative approaches. Solar power and shallow geothermal exchange are potential replacements for biomass that I would like to explore. I am committed to sustainable measures such as high-density and mixed-use spaces that provide an urban and active lifestyle. I am committed to ensuring we remain financially responsible. The potential for Blatchford to be a showcase for the rest of the world is still there, and I am committed to ensuring that it remains there.