News / Edmonton

Council rejects Mezzo towers developer change to affordable housing

After failing to get a charity partner, the head of West Oak development asked council to help fund the units

The 16-storey Mezzo tower, proposed by Edmonton's Westoak Development.

The 16-storey Mezzo tower, proposed by Edmonton's Westoak Development.

The developer of the controversial Mezzo tower planned for Old Strathcona says his plan to devote part of the building to a charity-run affordable housing project is no longer possible.

Council greenlit the 16-storey tower back in the spring of 2016, in part because the developer planned to devote a portion of the project to low-cost residences.

But Mathew McLash of West Oak Developments told city council Wednesday that groups like Habitat for Humanity were too busy with disasters like the Fort McMurray fire to partner on his project.

Instead, he asked the city to help fund the 29 affordable units he'd originally proposed. He also asked to make the units smaller, downgrading them from family units to 2-bedroom apartments.

"Affordable housing is incredibly important to [city council], it’s equally important to us," he said. "It's just we need to be able to execute on those commitments."

But councillors weren't pleased with McLash's request to change the original agreement.

McLash proposed that the city either buy the affordable housing units from him, at 85 per cent of the market cost, or that the city charge him an extra 15 per cent per housing unit and which would allow him to sell them at market rate.

"It seems to me that the developer is changing the rules of the game in the middle of the game. And I don't think that's fair," Coun. Moe Banga said.

The majority of councillors voted to reject McLash's proposal, sending him back to find another charity partner.

“We are very keen and we are looking to double down our efforts to do so," McLash said.

Kim Clegg, with the Queen Alexandra Committee League, said he thought it was the right choice.

“I think they are not getting any joy in this developer having troubles, they would like him to do well and they would like the building to be a nice addition to the area," he said.

The Mezzo was scheduled to start construction in the spring, but McLash won't be able to get a permit until an affordable housing partnership is in place.

"As soon as we get that relationship together, we will get working on the ground,” she said.

“If it’s a good building with affordable housing and it serves a lot of people. And I think everyone would be happy."

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