'Pit of doom': Alberta Avenue residents fed up with stalled infill property

Residents in Edmonton's Alberta Avenue neighbourhood say they are fed up with a stalled infill construction project that has been an eyesore for years.

Donna Paliwoda, who lives near the property, said she believes infill is "extraordinarily important" and that people in her community were excited about the project at first. Following the demolition of an older home at 11535 95A Street, construction on a new duplex began, but eventually stalled.

"It just sat there and nothing happened," she said.

Donna Paliwoda

For a while, no fence surrounded the open construction site, which extended right to the sidewalk, she said. During a block party in June of 2014, neighbours scrambled to fence off the hole, fearing children would fall in.

"That was the start of what we call the 'Pit of Doom,' " Paliwoda said.

When residents complained to the city fencing appeared. But it blocked about half the sidewalk, so they kept complaining until the fencing was moved farther back.

Paliwoda said residents from more than a dozen homes on two streets reported pigeons living in the partially built home, overgrown grass on the lawn, a lack of snow clearing on the sidewalk and a large pond of smelly standing water. Neighbours were dumping bottles of bleach into the pond because it stunk so badly, she said.

Builder promises project complete within a year

Gaurav Singhmar told CBC he runs a home building branch of Singhmar Developments that owns the Alberta Avenue property. He is the son of Prem Singhmar, whose downtown Edmonton hotel recently failed a health inspection because of a pigeon infestation.

Gaurav Singhmar said his business is a separate entity with separate financing sources and no involvement from other family members.

The Alberta Avenue project "ran into some difficulties," he said, after a few months of steady construction. He said the house was unusual because it was an up-down duplex, not the more common side-by-side duplex.

"Because of that, it brings in a whole set of building code issues," he said.

Donna Paliwoda

Singhmar said he fell from a high ladder and shattered both his knees. The recovery took months. 

"In that time, we put a roof on the house, we sealed the top of the house, to make sure that it was protected from the elements," he said.

Once Singhmar returned to work, he said there was a series of other more urgent projects. He tried to hire other contractors for the site several times and tried to sell the property through a private sale, but neither plan worked out, he said.

Last year, he learned his development permit for the property had expired. To reactivate it, he would have to repay permit fees, submit a new construction schedule and ensure the project met city bylaw standards, which had changed.

The builder said he regrets what's happened but is committed to finishing construction on a "high-quality project" within a year.

Dormant infill sites rare, city peace officer says

In 2016, the City of Edmonton introduced an infill compliance team to inspect infill sites and issue warnings and fines for infractions.

Darren Anderson, a city peace officer who works with the infill team, confirmed there have been residents' complaints about the Alberta Avenue property.

He said a fine was issued to the property owner in relation to several infractions observed during an inspection but the ticket is still pending resolution in court.

Most infill projects do not drag on and draw numerous complaints, Anderson said.

"They are pretty consistent with completing the work as soon as possible because basically time is money, but we have come across, on occasion, a few dormant or derelict work sites," he said.

Since the construction site is no longer active, the city's complaints and investigations section is now handling the file. The city does not have the authority to compel a builder to finish construction, said complaints co-ordinator Justin Lallemand, but it can enforce "minimum property standards" like ensuring the properly is safe and boarded up.

"We're aware of it now and we will begin our procedures of reaching out to the landowner, establishing contact and assessing the situation," Lallemand said.

Paliwoda said the builder's public commitment to complete construction is a step forward for the neighbourhood but she's not celebrating yet.

"I'm not going to be jumping up and down and clapping my hands and neither is anybody in our neighbourhood until they actually see something being done," she said.