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Blatchford review ordered after project fails to meet expectations

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An attempt to redevelop an old airfield into a dense and sustainable neighbourhood with thousands of homes and businesses is not going to plan, Edmonton city councillors heard Wednesday.

The Blatchford project on the former City Centre Airport property north of downtown has just 45 families living in it, far short of the 2,750 homes by 2022 that were predicted when the plan was approved.

"The 2014 development timelines were aggressive and could not be met for a number of reasons including real estate market conditions," a city report presented Wednesday stated.

A major issue is the price of the land, and as a result, the cost of buying in Blatchford. The cheapest option for sale Wednesday was a three-bedroom townhouse for $520,000. Developers estimate the price on average for a townhome is about $300,000 more than other areas of the city.

"This really shrinks the number of potential buyers, which increases the expected length of the development timeframe for this community," said Susan Keating with Urban Development Institute.

"We do not believe there is a financially viable path forward without some adjustments to Blatchford's model," said Adil Kodian with the Canadian Home Builders’ Association.

The City of Edmonton remains the main developer of the project. Councillors ordered a study Wednesday of Blatchford's business case including "social sustainability goals" and "market demand."

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi voted in favour of getting the study done but defended the original carbon-neutral goals of Blatchford.

"I would not be supporting changes to the business case other than tweaks on the edges and I will not be supporting changes to the environmental goals," Sohi said, adding he's spoken to Blatchford residents who agree with him.

The Blatchford neighbourhood in central Edmonton on October 12, 2022 (Jeremy Thompson/CTV News Edmonton).

Edmonton has spent roughly $200 million in the last nine years getting areas of the 500-acre site ready to sell to home builders. Blatchford features a geothermal district energy system that heats and cools every building. The layout of the streets and the lots is meant to encourage walking and transit in a dense community with no traditional detached homes.

Despite the missed targets some councillors believe now is not the time to pull the plug on the original principles.

"We’re hearing that development at Blatchford might be on the cusp of really taking off, so happy to be patient and see if that’s the case," Coun. Tim Cartmell said.

"Moving forward from here, we’re going to be seeing a more diverse array of housing typologies that are going to be more affordable," Coun. Ashley Salvador said.

The five councillors that sit on the city's executive committee voted unanimously for the report which is due back in June.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson

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