Public speaks out on Edmonton district plans, staff wanted to keep most public out

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More than 60 people signed up to tell city council what they think about district planning at city hall on Tuesday in a meeting that was almost closed to the majority of the public.

Council began hearing opinions from the public Tuesday morning on a policy and maps drafted by city workers that separates Edmonton into 15 “districts” for planning purposes, setting out where more intensive housing and commercial redevelopment will be encouraged in the future as the city grows. The first panel of about a dozen speakers in the morning spoke in favour, with the first panel of those opposed set to begin after lunch. The majority of who signed up do not support the plan.

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Representatives of Edmonton’s housing and land development industry made up the bulk of the speakers in favour before the lunch break, though many offered support alongside criticisms for how the policies could be improved or implemented.

“While these district plans are a step in the right direction, we must ensure that we are future-focused and flexible enough to adapt to our city’s needs,” Harman Kandola, with the Building Industry and Land Development Association, said.

Duncan Fraser, who said he taught planning for years, said these plans need to focus on increased development at the “nodes” and “corridors” identified in the plans.

“You can’t achieve thriving, nodes and corridors if you allow development and investment everywhere,” he said. “We can’t have it all. It doesn’t mean you can’t say yes when and where it makes sense outside the designated nodes and corridors, but you have to ask yourself is the tradeoff worth it?”

Despite the public’s interest in this item, the public was nearly prevented from attending the meeting as usual.

Postmedia obtained a confidential memo dated May 24 from then-acting city manager Kim Petrin informing council the public would only be permitted in chambers for the amount of time they are speaking to council and answering questions. The rest of the public would only be allowed to watch the livestream of the meeting in the lobby.

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“To focus the discussion between registered speakers and councillors, the number of people in chambers will be limited. As panels of speakers are identified they will be brought into chambers and seated in the staff section … only city hall school students will be allowed to sit in the public seating area,” the confidential notice states.

“This approach is intended to encourage respectful behaviour, mitigate the concerns from recent meetings and support the psychological safety of staff, councillors and the public.”

A follow-up memo obtained by Postmedia, dated May 27 from interim city manager Eddie Robar, reversed course, saying the public will be allowed in the chamber.

All 12 members of council attended the meeting in person, a rare occurrence since virtual participation became common with the COVID-19 pandemic.

More to come…

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