Notice of Decision from SDAB re re-opening of Fire Station 21 in Rossdale

Please find above the link to the decision from the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board regarding the re-opening of Fire Station 21 in Rossdale.

As was reported previously the Rossdale Community League (RCL) appealed the development permit that was issued to City of Edmonton Fire Services.

The background to all of this is very involved but here is an abridged account:

1.    The proposed fire station is situated in a protected area under the North Saskatchewan River Valley Bylaw (“NSRVARP”) and is located within the boundaries of the Capital City Recreation Park.  The NSRVARP is the bylaw that is designed to protect the Edmonton river valley from encroachment and to ensure old incompatible facilities, once retired, are returned to park.  Both this bylaw and the Rossdale Area Redevelopment Plan make it clear that this location was to be returned to park once the fire station was closed. 

2.    Many of our residents relied on this in constructing their homes where they did.

3.    Up until the 1990s the site had been used primarily as a fire training service with occasional fire service. It was never utilized as a stand alone full service fire station. In the late 1990s the Fire Chief at that time determined that the site was surplus to needs and offered no operational benefits to the Fire Department. Consequently, except for equipment storage and occasional river access it was effectively closed. River operations, to the limited extent needed from that site, could be adequately met by bringing crews from neighbouring stations.  Most recently that crew was brought from Mill Creek, although there are at least two other stations that are closer.

4.    At some point in the mid 2000s the City made an attempt to repurpose the site for a combination of purposes including trail maintenance, fire arson services and park rangers.  The impact on the Rossdale neighbourhood would have been significant and the permit the City obtained was objectionable on several grounds.  After unsuccessful attempts by RCL to work out a compromise an appeal was brought.  The appeal was successful and the City ordered to pay court costs.  The fire department had the option to bring its application back to SDAB on more sensible terms but chose not to and again any fire department plans for the site were abandoned. 

5.    A few years later the current fire chief commenced new efforts to make use of the site.  Under the NSRVARP such development could only be allowed if council deemed that use “essential” and only after an environmental and site studies were conducted.  In 2013 the Fire Department went before City Council and made the argument that river rescue activities required that crew had to be situated at that site.  Furthermore, in order to make the site economically viable that crew had to be given something else to do. Council was told that there would be single rescue truck making 250-300 calls a year.  On this basis council agreed to deem the development essential

6.    Since then we have learned that few if any life saving rescues take place from this site and that there are in fact 6 other stations, none of which are on the river which service river rescue needs quite adequately.  In fact this year the Rossdale site was closed all summer for the reconstruction of the boat launch with no adverse impact at all.  We have also discovered that no other major city in Canada places its river rescue crews on the river.  They are all located inland.  Edmonton will be unique.

7.    The cost of this new facility will be well in excess of $5M.

8.    Late this summer the Fire Department obtained its permit to proceed with construction of the facility.

RCL has appealed this permit for the following reasons:

9.    The permit was issued for “continuation and intensification” of fire services in Rossdale. The permit as described offered no limitation on the extent of services that could be located in Rossdale now or in the future. The Fire Department had previously made it very clear to City Council and the community that it wanted no limitation on how they operated in Rossdale.

10.    The decision by City Council to deem the fire hall essential was taken on the basis of an environmental impact assessment required by the North Saskatchewan River Valley Bylaw.  The environmental impact assessment considered only that fire services would respond to 250- 300 calls from downtown per year and that the site would have one rescue truck in addition to three specialized pieces of equipment.  If it is intended to operate the site beyond that capacity a new environmental impact assessment should be performed. There has never been an issue that Rossdale itself was not well served by existing fire services.

11.   Within a year Fire Chief Block was telling the City Council budget committee that there would now be approximately 600 calls responded to from the Rossdale station.  Subsequently a Rossdale resident was told that the number would be closer to 900.  Furthermore the Chief has indicated that downtown calls are expected to increase significantly. No other fire halls in the downtown area are being contemplated and consequently it can be expected that this increase will come from Rossdale and the numbers from Rossdale will grow still further. Of note is that Fire Services has never provided any data to support the numbers they put forward verbally.

12.   The building on the site in Rossdale has 4 bays, making it, along with FD Headquarters, the largest fire station in Edmonton. Plans of the building contemplate over 100 lockers with the capacity to expand beyond far beyond one crew.

13.   By way of comparison, MillCreek, a 2 bay station, responds to 3700 calls a year.  If Rossdale gets that busy, this represents over 7400 truck movements through our neighbourhood, or about 20 a day.  Given that most calls (according to the FD) are made in the day time, at that level we could be experiencing truck movements during the day on an average of once every 20-30 minutes. And there is nothing to say that calls could not go well beyond 3700. 

14.   When the former station was closed around 2000 with all training facilities being relocated one of the reasons cited for closing was incompatibility with a residential neighbourhood.

15.    There is no operational reason why the station cannot be located inland and in fact, given that well over 95% of what the station will be doing will be making inland calls, doing so would be operationally superior.  The FD’s internal materials confirm their own view that in term of emergency responses inland, this site is sub-optimal. As already stated there is no need for the station to be on the river and no other city does so.  There are numerous other sites which would offer river access equal to our superior to other cites without making the inland response compromises necessarily inherent with this location.

16.   Locating a fire station at the back of a residential neighbourhood where it is necessary for fire trucks to travel down 3 or more blocks of narrow residential streets to get to a main road is unprecedented.  No other City in Western Canada does this. In fact every other station in Edmonton and every station in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina and Calgary is either located directly on a main road or within half a block of a main road (and even in those cases the road is a wide one unlike anything in Rossdale)

17.    The land in Rossdale is zoned as parkland with a facility such as a fire station being allowed as a discretionary use.  This means that any development permit issued can be appealed. In addition the North Saskatchewan River Valley Bylaw makes particular mention of parkland and what can occur on such land.

18.   RCL has been in discussions with the City since 2000 regarding the site. In approximately 2005 the City obtained a grant from the Provincial Government for the development of a linear park outside of the site to act as a buffer and to link with the park behind Epcor and to provide sidewalk for people coming off the river valley trail. There is no sidewalk presently on that roadway which is a safety concern, particularly if large trucks are using the road at high speed. To date the City has made no further progress with the park even though the grant funding has not been spent. The park was not included with the current permit application and it is not known if the funding is even still available.

19.    Overall the development of a fire station responding to downtown calls with no limit on potential growth is a concern in a small community that is already pressured in many ways. The development is significant enough to fundamentally change the nature of the community. Once an active fire station is there, even on a limited basis, it will become easier to justify further expansion.  Denying the FD access to this location does not impact anyone’s safety and, in fact, forcing the FD to locate it elsewhere or make other accommodations will actually enhance fire service and public safety, not detract from it. 

On the basis of these concerns RCL appealed the development permit. Given the significance of the development to the community, RCL felt it was appropriate to hire legal counsel to represent the community, particularly bearing in mind that the City provided legal representation for Fire Services. 

We were partially successful in our appeal and the SDAB agreed to add some conditions.  However SDAB allowed the permit to go ahead with those conditions.  Our view presently is that these conditions, while an improvement, are neither clear nor extensive enough to provide us with the protection our community requires. RCL is currently considering legal advice regarding an appeal of the SDAB decision.