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Council tinkering prolongs pain

The debate over 70 Arlington Dr. has come to a head now that council has rezoned the property and green-lighted the 24-unit affordable housing project. That’s all true except for the part about the project getting the green light.

The debate over 70 Arlington Dr. has come to a head now that council has rezoned the property and green-lighted the 24-unit affordable housing project. That’s all true except for the part about the project getting the green light. And those unit totals — that’s what council wants but the numbers might not work out in the end, so stay tuned. And when I say the debate is over, I mean discussion has ended in council chambers, you know, as of this moment. A new public hearing will be held later this year, or maybe in 2011, after five marathon evenings and a design charette proved insufficient to find a solution.

Talk about indecision 2010.

Council members will no doubt defend their position by saying they took a stand on a very complex and emotional issue, ultimately paving the way for a 24-unit Habitat for Humanity development. Sure they’ve nailed down the number of units, but that’s meaningless if the project is broken. Council has tinkered to the point the viability of the project is in doubt — all in the name of six units, the difference between the 30-unit plan Habitat said would work and number elected officials suddenly prefer.

It’s a curious turn of events considering council had previously landed on a unit total — or so we thought — when it set a range of 28 to 34 units, with an option for basement suites. The basement suites didn’t mesh with Habitat’s home ownership model, dropping the site density in the process, but apparently not enough for the comfort level of this council. With the exception of Coun. Len Bracko and outgoing councillors Lorie Garritty and Carol Watamaniuk, council had second thoughts Monday.

The last time council tinkered, when it set the 28- to 34-unit range, it forced Habitat’s partner Apollo Developments to walk away (arguably council’s goal when it made the move). We’ll know in the coming days or weeks whether the latest changes damage the project beyond repair. The initial reaction from Habitat for Humanity hasn’t been encouraging. Council was told during the public hearing that 30 units was as low as Habitat was willing to go on a project, it bears reminding, that council initiated and not the other way around. The unit total has a direct effect on affordability and Edmonton president and CEO Alfred Nikolai says his board has a tough decision to make on whether 70 Arlington Dr. still qualifies as ‘affordable housing.’

If Habitat walks, the heated emotions stirred these past months will cool until the next proposed development. But even if Habitat finds a way to make the numbers work, the project is far from a done deal. By changing the unit totals council — unwittingly we can only assume — forced the need for yet another public hearing, which administration advised can’t happen for several months, a point council did not press.

That decision means everyone involved in this never-ending drama has to go through the motions yet again. For the sake of six units, hundreds of Akinsdale residents have to endure a few more months of uncertainty and then several more tedious hours of questions, arguments and, ultimately, a plan few near the site support, even at 24 units. Once the arguments are raised it’s possible council — the new council — could quash the project outright, depending on the results of Oct. 18.

Members of the present council have proved they’re good at compromises, especially for a project that went from 63 units to 58, 34, 30 and now 24. But who exactly gains from the latest compromise, five months into proceedings, which won’t erase the anger from the public hearings and only raises questions about council’s ability to make the tough decisions. Those must be six very remarkable units.

Bryan Alary is co-editor of the Gazette. Keep tabs on all the election issues at www.stalbertgazette.com.