Griesbach is Dead, Long Live Griesbach

City approves plan for Canada Lands to move ahead with its development for the northeast corner of the community
One side of Griesbach Road, versus the other

It’s just a little bit ironic that a neighbourhood with a strong military history also features a demarcation line.

Griesbach Road is a crescent shaped street that separates the northeast corner of the neighbourhood from the remainder of Griesbach. That northeast corner is the final, historic holdout that harkens back to the 1950s, when CFB Edmonton housed hundreds of military families. It’s an area filled with homes, duplexes and townhouses that are available to rent. The streets are narrow. There are no sidewalks. The yards are massive. There are community garages in bad need of fresh paint. You’d think you were in a small prairie town.

On the other side of Griesbach Road, there are modern townhomes, walk-ups and new houses. They’re tightly packed. Major General Griesbach School is a hub.

As you walk down Griesbach Road, the difference from what you see on your left, compared to what’s on the right, is stark. There’s a real disconnect, as if a city planner had gone mad — or had a sick sense of humour.

But it will all change, soon. This week, City Council unanimously approved the amendment to the Griesbach Area Plan. This means that Canada Lands, the Crown corporation that is in charge of developing the former military lands, can proceed with its plans to raze the 520 residential homes in the northeast corner of Griesbach. The plan is to create community hubs and streets influenced by the Dutch “woonerf” aesthetic. That’s a plan where streets are able to host slow-moving vehicles, bikes and pedestrians. They could have trees or monuments in the street, which makes for more attractive shared spaces and act as speed limiters. There will be buildings up to six storeys in height, and a mixed-use commercial cluster near 153rd Avenue.

rendering of shared street

The renters who live in the northeast corner know that they will eventually have to move. Coordinators are in place to help families find places to live nearby, and kids will be allowed to still go to Major Griesbach General School, even if the family moves out of the catchment area.

The rental office is still a going concern. There is a waitlist for those looking to rent. At the office, I am told that the waitlist is necessary because existing residents are currently being moved around as the end days for the community draw closer. But, once that shuffling is concluded, new renters will be accepted, with the knowledge that within two to five years, the houses are coming down, to be replaced by new neighbourhoods.

Erin Rutherford, who represents Ward Anirniq — in which Griesbach lies — said she has been impressed by the level of consultation Canada Lands has done with residents in both the newer and older areas of the community. She lauded Canada Lands for “compassion, care and sensitivity,” while also acknowledging the transition will be painful for some.

“I think there is still some sadness too, and I don’t want to disregard that. There are still some well-loved members of the community that call that military housing home.”

Coun. Ashley Salvador also gave a passionate thumbs-up to the redevelopment plan.

“I think it’s such a fantastic and exciting opportunity to continue building out an award-winning neighbourhood, that is in alignment with our City Plan and our infill targets.”

rendering of greenway

The northeast corner will feature a number of “pocket parks.” The parks, while smaller than city specifications, will dot the neighbourhood. Canada Lands’ plan is that no home will be further than a two-minute walk to one of the pocket parks. There will be traffic calming measures such as raised crosswalks.

Kairi Pawlina (Pawlick), who is overseeing the development of Griesbach for Canada Lands, said that there will be a mix of amenities in the pocket parks, but what exactly will go into them is yet to be determined.

“Some may be more enhanced and others may be more natural and passive. It will really be a mix,” she said.

“In the next phase of work we’ll be doing public engagement and more direct design work with the City to determine what goes in those parks,” said Brian Murray, partner at B&A Planning Group.

Really, it sounds a lot like the promises that have been made about the redevelopment of Blatchford, on the former City Centre Airport lands. But, Griesbach, throughout the previous phases of Canada Lands’ redevelopment of the area, has been able to attract home builders and residents, while Blatchford lays, for the most part, empty.

Pawlina said about 20 per cent of the northeast’s residences will be designated as affordable housing.

“We are committed to different types [of housing]… ideally not all condo and apartment.”

There was a debate in council over what really makes for affordable housing — the standard is that housing is affordable if it requires less than 30 per cent of a household’s before-tax income. But what’s 30 per cent of $100,000, compared to 30 per cent of $50,000? Or less? But there are some other factors taken into consideration, like median home costs in the neighbourhood.

When those remaining 500 or so rental residences are brought down, well, you can see the “end of an era” wrap to this story from a mile away, right? So, take a walk down Griesbach Road, before it loses its title as offering one of the most unusual streetscapes in all of Edmonton.