Katz Group wants to use controversial Downtown gravel parking lots until 2028

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The Katz Group wants to keep using two longstanding vacant plots of land north of Rogers Place as surface gravel parking lots for up to five more years, requesting an extension from the city for the second time.

Stantec Consulting Ltd., on behalf of the Katz Group, is asking the city for a rezoning to stretch the deadline to get rid of its gravel parking lots to Dec. 31, 2028. Edmonton city council at the March 11 public hearing will decide whether to let temporary parking continue.

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Allowing the gravel lots to be used for parking has been controversial in the past. Parking isn’t allowed there right now — the last extension expired at the end of December.

Nearly all surface parking lots in the city’s core are operating illegally, a review by city administration found last year.

The developer eventually plans to build the “Village at Ice District” with a mix of retail and commercial buildings and up to 2,500 residential units across that more than five acre stretch of land north of Rogers Place, also built by the Katz Group

The city also approved a demolition permit for the former Boyle Street Community Services building on 105 Avenue NW in January, which is adjacent to these parking lots, according to the city’s development permit databases.

One city councillor has suggested administrators review agreements with the Katz Group in light of its legal battle and funding dispute with Boyle Street Community Services.

Temporary surface parking since 2016

These lots, between 105 Avenue and 106 Avenue and between 101 Street and 103 Street, have been sitting vacant for years. Using the land for parking was always meant to be temporary.

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In a controversial decision at the time, the city first gave the Katz Group permission to use the lots for parking in 2016.

Local residents had feared a sunset clause would not protect them from the site becoming a permanent parking lot after they had already asked the city to deal with such lots for years. The community league asked for revenue sharing from the parking lot.

Edmonton city council ultimately reduced the length of time Katz Group requested to use the lots down to a maximum of six years, down from the 10 years requested, and required a $150,000 donation to the Central McDougall Community League.

Paving the parking lots and adding lighting were also promised at the time. The lots remain unpaved.

The developers asked for an extension in 2022 when Stantec Group approached city council on the Katz Group’s behalf for the rezoning needed to build the Village at Ice District, also asking that the surface parking be allowed to stay until the end of 2025.

Council approved the request but with one change — the land could only be used for surface parking lots until the end of December 2023.

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Support for temporary parking

City administrators now support keeping the lots for parking temporarily, saying it allows the land to be used for a different purpose until redevelopment begins.

Developers are also promising landscaping around some of the edges with about 13 more trees and 100 shrubs, and to add pedestrian paths.

“Although supportable on a temporary basis in this specific context, surface parking is not a desired long-term use of this land. Surface parking is not considered something that draws people to this area or contributes to the success and vibrancy of Downtown and the Ice District,” the report states.

“While an important consideration to support destinations and desirable activities which bring people to this area, previous studies have concluded that there is already sufficient parking to accommodate parking demands here,” the report states.

Fabio Garducci, Katz Group president, said in an email Thursday the Ice District is helping drive revitalization in Edmonton’s core and access to parking helps keep up activity and investment.

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The company has followed permitting rules for parking, unlike others who operate without permits, he said.

“The parking lots to the north of Rogers Place not only ensure hockey and concert fans have access to parking, these lots also provide parking for events at the Fan Park, Ice District Plaza, employees and residents who work and live in Ice District, as well as patrons of the Grand Villa Casino, the Downtown Community Arena, restaurants, shops and a variety of other Downtown businesses,” he said.

Garducci said there are “exciting plans” for the Village at Ice District that will take some time and be built using a “phased approach.”

He did not answer a question about whether the demolition of the former Boyle Street site is related to that redevelopment.

“While Edmonton’s real estate market has been slow to recover, we’ve invested millions into vibrancy in the interim through (the) Fan Park. We remain committed and focused on the ongoing revitalization of Downtown and Edmonton’s core.”

The city says it received two responses in support and none opposed to these plans after notifying neighbours, community leagues and other organizations.

Favourable comments — including from the Edmonton Downtown Businesss Association — point to accessible parking that can draw visitors for businesses and events Downtown, that the nearby casino relies heavily on these lots, and that the extension is appropriate “given current economic conditions and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report states.

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