City Approves a Project in Glenora that is “Probably Not Going to Happen”

This Edmonton neighbourhood has legal protection against high-density development
The Mayhew Residence has been on the Edmonton Historical Board registry since 2016. It faces the wrecking ball.

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If you consider yourself a Star Trek nerd, you know about the Kobayashi Maru. It is the ultimate test of character for a Starfleet Academy cadet.

It’s a no-win scenario. In a simulator, cadets are sent into Klingon space to rescue the crew of a disabled freighter (the Kobayashi Maru in question). They know they will be surrounded by enemy ships and attacked. But the cadets have no choice but to run their collective errand of mercy.

It’s about testing how a person reacts in the face of a sure defeat.

When it comes to City Council, the Carruthers Caveat represents its Kobayashi Maru.

Councillors spent a couple of hours this week debating whether or not to approve a six-storey development smack dab in the middle of Glenora. And they voted 13-0 to give the project the green light.

But those 13 “yes” votes may be merely symbolic. The project was lauded by councillors for bringing density to an area that, in the coming years, will have an LRT extension. It meets the objective of the city plan. And, while some mature trees will have to be removed for the construction of this project, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi noted that the carbon that would be offset by having increased density close to the core would be greater than what would be produced by the lost trees. So, when it came time to vote, it was a slam dunk.

Well, a slam dunk in a political sense. In a practical sense, it’s anything but. Coun. Andrew Knack, whose Ward Nakota Isga contains the toney Glenora neighbourhood, warned that the approval of the medium-density project was likely an exercise in futility.

“It’s been a really good conversation, but it’s probably not going to happen,” he said.

Why? Because the Carruthers Caveat, which has been in place since 1911, is a covenant that, for all intents and purposes, blocks the development of anything but single-family homes in Glenora, south of Stony Plain Road. More than 100 years ago, developer James Carruthers filed the covenant as an enticement for people to buy into the new neighbourhood, guaranteeing that the community would never have anything but stately homes with big yards.

And, history has shown us that Glenora residents plan to keep it that way. Knack asked City administration if there has been any time that Carruthers Caveat has been defeated in court, and was told no. When residents invoke it, the Carruthers Caveat has, so far, been legally bulletproof.

But administration still went ahead with recommending this development. The caveat itself is not under the City’s purview.

“It is not a factor in administration’s planning analysis. The caveat is a private agreement between landowners,” was what council was told.

But, council was later warned the caveat would come into effect if “any party chooses to enforce their rights.” Basically, every resident in the affected area has a notwithstanding clause at their fingertips.

It can make your head hurt. The City approves a plan for a six-storey building in Glenora, which it knows violates the terms of a caveat which has an undefeated record in the courts. But, because that caveat is filed on land titles, the City makes zoning decisions independent of it. Yet, at the same time, administration and council know that actually going from zoning approval to construction can be stopped by any legal claim from a Glenora resident.

Those are bad odds.

The land, owned by architect Jason LeBlanc, contains the Mayhew residence, which is in the historical register. But LeBlanc said the money required to restore the residence makes it “not viable” to leave it standing.

“If the grants were inflated dramatically, it gives us the chance to explore (saving the residence),” said LeBlanc.

The proposed six-storey building would have an underground parkade with more than 40 stalls.

When the City surveyed residents, there was both support and opposition to the development. And the neighbour directly to the south of the planned development spoke in opposition.

“I am going to support it, but I still feel sick to my stomach because I know how people in the neighbourhood will feel like council didn’t hear them, or that council doesn’t care, or council doesn’t take (my feelings) into account,” said Knack.

But, really, does the vote matter? Whether this project goes forward or not is really out of council’s hands.

“It’s only ever going to change if all the landowners south of Stony Plain Road choose to do something different,” said Knack.