Hundreds attend photo op to protest proposed housing development in southwest Edmonton

Residents of Edmonton's Keheewin neighbourhood want to remind the city there's strength in numbers.

On Wednesday night, about 300 people showed up outside of Keheewin School to protest a proposed housing development. 

It's the first time families opposed to the project gathered without inviting city officials, organizers said.

"We're going to take a picture of the group to show how much support we have," said Lyndsey Olsen, who has two children enrolled at Keheewin.

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The city is considering a proposal to build an apartment complex, which will have up to 182 housing units, on an empty site next to the K-6 school at 1910 105th Street.

But parents are worried about the development's proximity to the school, which is about 20 metres away.

Organizers of Wednesday's meeting used neon tape to show just how close: one line of tape represented the boundary for the proposed development's fence. The second, showed where the building would be located.

Community members listed traffic congestion and safety as their main concerns. 

"The proximity is unheard of," community member Cynthia Lang said. "This is not safe for children." 

"They've created a corridor here that limits the ability for the children to move and also leave a situation that might not be safe," Lang said. 

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Ward 10 Councillor Michael Walters said he has listened to his constituents' concerns.

He said the city has also spoken with the school board, police and engineers to make sure safety and traffic won't be affected.

"[The school board] said that they see the number of kids being that close to the school as a way that you could actually alleviate some of the traffic concerns that people have expressed," Walters said.

The school board supports the project, he added.

Ultimately, Walters said, the housing complex is aimed at low-income families — many of whom need affordable shelter.

The city announced two years ago that it would repurpose some surplus school sites for affordable housing.

"There's a need for about 28,000 of these kinds of units in Edmonton right now," Walters said. "This is the kind of housing that gives people on lower incomes a bit of a break on rent."

When families spend less money on rent, they can spend more on extracurricular activities for their kids, for example, Walters added.

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Olsen agrees. She said doesn't want the project to fail, she wants the city to move it away from the school.

"Our issue is not with the type of development," Olsen said. "Our issue is with the size of the development and the density, which brings it 20 metres from our kids' school." 

Olsen said she is pro affordable housing, but "we're hoping they'll make adjustments to the development. "

Going forward, Olsen said her community plans to keep protesting the proposed development.

Anya Zoledziowski/CBC

Walters said a public hearing will likely take place early next year before city council decides whether to move forward with the project.

Community members will have the opportunity to share their concerns before councillors vote on the development.