Ward pihêsiwin City Council member Tim Cartmel plans to submit a proposal later this month requesting a state report on a sustainable community being developed on the grounds of the former City Center Airport near downtown.
“I’m not suggesting the city gets out of this, at all,” Cartmel says. “I am only suggesting that we find and study all options to speed up the pace of development.”
Cartmel says the Blatchford community has produced only a few dozen homes, instead of the 2,700 dwellings originally expected in 2014.
He doesn’t think they should compromise on seeing a densely populated neighborhood, which would be home to 30,000 people, and be powered entirely by renewable energy. But he brings up the idea of selling the land to the builders at a lower cost to speed things up.
“Whether city packages are currently in development or new packages are currently dormant and we put them in the hands of third parties, let’s start development faster,” says Cartmel.
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progress so far
Tim Lumsden, city development manager for the project, points to real progress in what he calls a unique project – energy infrastructure, a stadium, a community park, and historic features linked to the area’s aviation history.
“Building a community takes time,” Lumsden says. “We are in the early stages.”
“We have to work by making things different and city systems are a part of that, so these are the challenges we’re facing.”
One of those key differences is the development of the Geoexchange heating system, he says. Another is to make sidewalks wider and roads narrower to encourage walking and cycling.
Finally, there is a green building law in place, to ensure that homes are as energy efficient as possible.
“There’s more insulation in the walls, and there’s everything low-flow,” Lumsden says.
The first homes went on sale in 2019, and now there are nearly 500 total units planned — including townhouses, condos and condos — in the first two phases of the community.
An existing townhouse with a legal deck and basement and a legal garage suite is priced at $895,500, while single-unit townhouses start at $599,000.
Wade Grabeldinger, chief financial officer of Crimson Cove Homes, predicts that the community will “feel very different” in the next three to five years.
His Edmonton-based company has plans for a sub-$400,000 condominium project and is only allocating land in Phase II for condominium homes that will be priced under $500,000.
“We sold all 17 units straight away, even before we had a show house,” Grabeldinger says. All homes have secondary suites in the basements or above the garage.
He’s excited that Crimson Cove Homes is involved in these early days, saying he believes it will keep his company ahead of the curve and next building code.
“We know the federal government really wants to focus on residential construction and building practices as a way to reduce our carbon footprint, and Blatchford is at the forefront,” Graddinger says.
Possible factors at play
Finding a critical mass of early adopters to take on the perceived risks associated with new green building technology — particularly in Alberta — may be one reason Blatchford’s project is falling behind initial goals, says University of Alberta real estate expert David Del Johnson.
“Net zero costs money and perhaps consumers, at this point, are not willing to pay for it,” says Dale-Johnson, Stan Melton’s head of real estate at Alberta Business School.
Other factors, he adds, were the lack of units in the individual package to allow for economies of scale, or the vision was seen as too prescriptive in not allowing innovation or adaptation to market changes.
Dale-Johnson adds that some urban construction projects have not performed well during the pandemic.
“Maybe Blatchford struggled because people are saying, ‘Okay, Windmere is a little further away but I’m going to work two days a week from home anyway,'” says Dale Johnson.
The Metro Line LRT extension to Blatchford is due to be operational by 2025, but homebuyers are always skeptical about things like access to schools and shops.
Sometimes these questions will draw attention to the fact that Blatchford is currently a blank canvas the size of the heart of downtown – or the equivalent of 405 football fields.
Dale Johnson says it’s an interesting challenge with a development of this magnitude. “What do you do to start it? What do you do to create excitement?”
With files from Natasha Riebe and CBC Edmonton Radio Active.