Blatchford celebrates opening as Edmonton city council scrutinizes development pace

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As Blatchford marked its grand opening on Saturday, the slow speed at bringing the envisioned community to life is under scrutiny at city hall.

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Festivities and neighborhood and showhome tours were set for the weekend after officials held a small ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday. Four stages of development are expected to be completed by the end of this year which will hold 1,100 units once homes are built, the city announced this week. The 52 parcels of land developed by the city so far have been sold or sales are pending.

But so far just over 30 homes are occupied — far below the 2,750 residential units Coun. Tim Cartmell would have expected by this point according to the original business case.

“I haven’t heard anything yet, despite all of the renewed activity in promoting Blatchford on behalf of the city, that indicates that we’re going to have anything approaching a market increase in housing starts,” Cartmell said in an interview.

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The councilor is also not impressed by the 1,100-units-worth of land sales the city is promoting.

“Who cares? That’s great — there will be land available that will accommodate 1,100 units. Today, there’s land available that will accommodate 30,000 units… the question is: how many units do we have?” Cartmell said. “Right now we have 32, and what we need is 1,032. My concern is that it’s going to take a very long time to get anywhere near that number.”

City council on June 13 unanimously passed a motion asking for a progress update including costs incurred, sources of revenue, and the original project schedule with the predicted sales by year.

The analysis, as requested by Cartmell, will also look at if they could bring in the private sector to help develop the land and speed things up.

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Right now, Cartmell said he’s hearing from developers that there’s too much red tape, potentially causing some delays and driving up the cost.

That’s a problem, he said, because affordability and being attractive to younger generations and younger families was part of the vision, along with environmental sustainability.

“There’s not a chance at all that my son can move into a brand new townhome in Blachford. Not even close,” he said. “He’s a graduate from the University of Alberta. He’s gainfully employed, so is his girlfriend. These are things that should not be out of reach, but that is a part of the city that he will not be able to move into.”

Tom Lumsden, city development manager for this project, said current market conditions and the COVID-19 pandemic, along with other factors including custom designs for the roads and other infrastructure, contributed to a slower start. However, he believes Blatchford is still in a good place.

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“Seven years from an active airport to this kind of development with people living there, I will suggest it is probably fast,” he said Thursday. “What is probably more realistic is where we are today.”

Affordability is also still part of the plan, he said. Although the townhomes onsite go for more than $500,000 right now, these have suites that can be rented out, I have explained.

There are also plans in the works for a 90-unit rental townhome development and two condo buildings with 82 and 72 units each, according to the city. Lumsden expects those to begin construction next year and finish in the next couple of years.

“Once we get more building types, then the affordability will change,” he said. “The vision of Blatchford is a sustainable community. And that’s paramount to what we’re doing here: making it socially sustainable, green sustainable, financially as well.”

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