Watching Ritchie's renewal: A Case Study

As published in Community League News South, February 2019
By Keri Walmsley, RCL newsletter editor

When Keesa Elickson and Karl Jensen moved into their house on 76 Avenue in 2017, they knew two houses next door were slated for demolition and infill. They were keeping an open mind. After all, Ritchie is a poster child for the city’s efforts to densify.

Fast forward several months.

The developer’s plan for stacked row housing required a bylaw change at city council to rezone the lots, and the couple was on a steep learning curve to understand what this would mean to them...and to Ritchie.

Enter the community league.

A call to the president and then a meeting with the civics director and Keesa and Karl found themselves presenting their concerns at a league meeting in October 2018. Developer, Peter Kalven, presented his plans as well.

“It is what we’d hoped for,” says Keesa. “It was the first time we’d had a chance to have a meaningful discussion about what [the bylaw change] meant to the community.”

The community league voted to oppose the developer’s rezoning application.

President Cecilia Oteiza Ayres delivered a letter in-person to city council, asking for further consultation since the bylaw change to rezone the lots would also be a change to Ritchie’s Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP), an almost 40-year-old set of guidelines originally developed after extensive community input.  

Such civic advocacy has been a raison d’être of community leagues since their origin in 1917, though rinks and halls, programs and parties are what attract most people.

“The community league provides a collective voice that is more influential than the individual,” says Allan Bolstad, Ritchie’s civics director. That’s especially true when adding its voice to other leagues’. In recent months, the EFCL has provided the city with feedback on a range of issues from bus route changes to the future of the proposed Rollie Mills recreation centre.

But infill tops the list of challenges facing Ritchie.

“The league can provide advice and assistance to individuals dealing with the city. And we can be a mediator between individuals and developers,” explains Allan.

He has plenty of experience to tap having directed the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL) for nine years, served four terms as city councillor 1992-2004 and covered Edmonton area issues as a newspaper reporter and columnist before that. He currently sits on the city’s Subdivision Development Appeal Board.

Other issues Allan’s keeping an eye on for Ritchie include plans to put the LRT down Whyte Avenue, talk of reconnecting Mill Creek to the river, problems with traffic short cutting and speeding through the neighbourhood, and the preservation of local history like the Minchau Blacksmith Shop in West Ritchie.

Back to the proposed four-storey building next door to Keesa and Karl.

City council sided with the developer in December, changing Ritchie’s ARP, rezoning two lots and green lighting the stacked rowhouse. Keesa and Karl wait to see if Kalven will apply for further variances to the now-new zoning requirements.

Meanwhile, the league waits to see if the ARP change is precedent setting, leading to more ARP changes and more tall multi-unit buildings in areas surrounded by low profile houses.

Still, connecting with the league over this issue has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, says Keesa, adding that she and Karl make a point of attending Ritchie board meetings now.

“We are very happy to hear Allan’s updates and share what we learn at the meetings with our neighbours and friends.”