Building Blatchford: Assessing progress on Edmonton’s ambitious sustainable community

Things are happening at Blatchford, the community being built on the site of Edmonton’s old municipal airport. But some are wondering if they’re happening fast enough. 

Tim Cartmell, a city councillor for Ward pihêsiwin, plans to introduce a motion later this month asking for a report on the status of the sustainable community being developed on the former City Centre Airport lands near downtown.

“I’m not suggesting the city get out of this, not at all,” says Cartmell. “I’m just suggesting that we find and examine all options to accelerate the pace of development.”

Cartmell says the Blatchford community has produced just a few dozen homes, instead of the 2,700 residences that were originally projected in 2014.

He doesn’t think they should compromise on the vision of a densely populated neighbourhood, which will be home to 30,000 people, and fully powered by renewable energy. But he is floating the idea of selling the land to builders at a lower cost to speed things up. 

“Whether it’s the city parcels that are currently under development or it’s new parcels that are dormant right now and we put them in the hands of third parties, let’s get development faster,” says Cartmell.

‘Being friendly to the earth is really what it’s all about’

2 days ago

Duration 1:54

Take a tour of the sustainable neighbourhood of Blatchford currently under construction in Edmonton, Alta.

You can see more from Blatchford on Our Edmonton Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at noon and 11 a.m. Monday on CBC TV and CBC Gem. 

Progress to date

Tom Lumsden, the city’s development manager for the project, points to signs of real progress on what he calls a unique project — energy infrastructure, a playground, community garden and historical features tied to the area’s aviation history.

“It takes time to build a community,” says Lumsden. “We’re at the beginning stages.”

“We have to work through making things differently and the city regulations are part of that so those are the challenges we face.”

A perspective from the Blatchford control tower of the ongoing construction in the neighbourhood. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

One of those key differences is developing the geoexchange heating system, he says. Another is making sidewalks wider and roads narrower to encourage walking and biking.

Finally, there is an enforced green building code, to ensure the homes are as energy efficient as possible. 

“There’s more insulation in the walls, there’s low-flow everything,” Lumsden says.

The first homes went up for sale in 2019 and now there are approximately 500 total units planned —  including townhomes, condos and apartments — in the first two stages of the community.

An existing townhouse with rooftop, legal basement suite and legal garage suite is priced at $895,500, while single-unit townhouses start at $599,000. 

Wade Grabeldinger, the chief financial officer at Crimson Cove Homes, predicts the community is going to “feel very different” in the next three to five years.

His Edmonton-based company has plans for a condo project with units priced under $400,000, and is just staking out the land in stage two for townhomes that will be priced under $500,000. 

Wade Grabeldinger, the chief financial officer with Crimson Cove Homes, checks out the company’s townhome project in Blatchford. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

“We sold all 17 units right away, before we even had a showhome,” says Grabeldinger. The homes all have secondary suites in the basements or above the garage. 

He is excited that Crimson Cove Homes is involved in these early days, saying he believes it will keep his company ahead of the curve and of the next building code. 

“We know the federal government really wants to focus on residential construction and the building practices as a way to reduce our carbon footprint, and Blatchford is at the front of it,” says Gradeldinger.

Potential factors at play

Finding a critical mass of early-adopters to take on the perceived risk associated with new green building technology — especially in Alberta — may be one reason the Blatchford project has lagged behind initial targets, says real estate expert David Dale-Johnson at the University of Alberta.

View from the master bedroom window at one of the Blatchford showhomes. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

“Net zero costs money and maybe consumers, at this point, aren’t willing to pay for it,” says Dale-Johnson, the Stan Melton Chair in Real Estate at the Alberta School of Business.

Other factors, too few units in an individual parcel to allow for economies of scale, or that the vision was perceived to be too prescriptive in not allowing for innovation or adjustment to market changes, he says.

Dale-Johnson adds that some urban building projects have not performed as well during the pandemic. 

“Maybe Blatchford has suffered because people are saying, ‘Well, Windemere is a little further but I’m going to be working two days a week from home anyway,'” Dale-Johnson says. 

The Metro Line LRT extension is scheduled to be running to Blatchford by 2025, but homebuyers always question things like access to schools and shops.

Sometimes, those questions will draw attention to the fact that Blatchford is currently a blank slate the size of the downtown core — or about the equivalent of 405 football fields. 

It poses an interesting challenge with a development of this size, Dale-Johnson says. “What do you do to kick it off? What do you do to create excitement?”

One of the entrance features along the pedestrian gateway into the Blatchford community. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

With files from Natasha Riebe and CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active.

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