There is probably nothing that unites the disparate groups in our city better than the annoyance over the rules of our city. Try adding a deck onto your property in a mature neighbourhood, and see the resulting headache of paperwork and encumbrances to the average person, yet how easily a new development gets to override fundamental statues of the city’s growth strategy. The classic example of the quagmire of our city’s bylaws is the parking issues around many of our city’s core areas. As recently highlighted in the Edmonton Journal many people recognize that these bylaws need to be changed.
In our city’s southeast, there are vast areas of industrial space completely open, and dozens of commercial warehouses vacant; they have been, some of them, for years. Businesses, such as Wide Flange Beam, Sentrimax, and Article Furniture, who operate in these areas, have struggled with asinine bureaucracy to such a degree that they have all have finally left the city for good. Despite this obvious gap in city density and tax potential, we allow building permits on the city’s periphery, enter into ridiculous competition with our neighbours’ business districts, and have to grant concessions to developers in order to make their industrial parks and projects viable. New retail or office tenants in existing places in the downtown core are flooded with nonsensical re-zoning permits and development permits (one new start-up was prevented for four months to open her consultation company, because the building had to go from a hair salon to an office space, a renovation which took three days to safely make happen). This creates great uncertainty when advertising for a tenant in commercial space in our city because no one is quite sure which rule will be followed or used to obstruct a business’s growth. We are not providing the environment to incubate local business growth and development that we are known for, and that have great success stories from the past: Ledcor, PCL, Icom, Cowan Graphics, Factor Forms, and many, many more. It is simply too difficult to set up and grow in Edmonton compared to our surrounding neighbours, largely as a result of the bylaws.
Some business owners, colleagues, and endorsers have discussed this problem with me at length. One prominent business owner, who has almost one hundred separate tax roll accounts, has stated that, “the EEDC hasn’t once, in ten years, provided a business lead for a tenant or business development.” If we are not supporting our current businesses and using their feedback to grow, we will never be a world-class destination. Even community leagues are saddled with an unfair amount of regulations and permits, things that volunteers and non-professionals are expected to complete with ease, and with little regard by the administration to the time involved in such ventures. I want our city to be an option for start-up businesses, for long-term incubation of companies that become leaders in North America. There needs to be an absolutely thorough review of the bylaws surrounding business ownership, business development, construction, and community rules in place to make our city a place where the vast majority of businesses feel that they have a place in development, in the surrounding community leagues, and that there are some clear ideological hallmarks of planning that govern our growth.
We also absolutely need to give more control and power to Bylaw officers to enforce the rules in place. There are so few people able to handle problem properties that some city officials have jokingly said: “[the particular property] will sell and change ownership before we will be able to get involved.” We, as a city, need to refuse to support bad business development projects with incentives and grants if they do not lead to the current use of our city’s spaces and community systems already in place. We must stop competing with our neighbours for business revenue by starting a regional strategy to help the entire capital region grow as one. We need to absolutely include businesses when designing development plans and using their feedback in our city’s growth strategy.