This conceptual image shows a proposed sustainable community called Solair that Arbutus Properties wanted to build in southeast Saskatoon, even though much of the land is currently located outside city limits. (Arbutus Properties)
Saskatoon city council effectively killed a proposed $1-billion solar-powered neighbourhood when it voted against changing city hall’s development schedule to accommodate Arbutus Properties.Q: What was Solair?A: Solair was a proposed neighbourhood of more than 2,000 homes that would one day feature about 7,000 residents. According to the Arbutus website, which still included the Solair project on Tuesday, the project was supposed to be the largest sustainable community in Canada. The homes would be powered by rooftop solar panels and rain gardens would replace traditional storm sewers. It was also supposed to serve as a model for other neighbourhoods by the Vancouver-based developer.Q: Where was it supposed to be built?A: Solair was planned for a 300-acre triangular piece of land, most of which is located in the Rural Municipality of Corman Park. The land is expected to one day fall with Saskatoon city limits. The location made sense for Arbutus because the company is developing the Meadows community in the nearby southeast Rosewood neighbourhood.Q: What did Arbutus want from the city?A: The company asked to be moved to the “front of the queue” to acknowledge the social benefits of the proposal and the urgency of a more sustainable approach to neighbourhoods. On Monday, council voted 7-4 to reject any special treatment for the Solair project, following a two-and-a-half-hour debate.Q: What happens now?A: After rejecting an accelerated development plan for Solair, council then voted to include Solair in future development plans. Arbutus president Jeff Drexel said in an interview that the company has no plans to keep pursuing the project, which was first proposed two years ago. On Tuesday, Arbutus director of planning Murray Totland said it’s too early to tell if the company might pursue Solair elsewhere. “As a general comment, though, we always saw the development model of Solair being repeatable and exportable to other communities,” Totland said in an email.Q: What killed the project?A: Mayor Charlie Clark said the project represented too much risk for taxpayers, given the estimated costs of changing plans — as high as $64 million. Most of those costs would be paid for through development levies on lot sales, as is the case with all new neighbourhoods, according to a city hall report. Arbutus pledged to cover unanticipated costs. Others, notably Coun. Randy Donauer, worried that developing one neighbourhood out of sequence would lead to a “wild west” in Saskatoon. Throughout the debate on Monday it was noted that both Stonebridge and The Willows were built out of sequence on land that was not slated for development.Q: How deep was the opposition from city hall?A: Coun. Darren Hill and Coun. Ann Iwanchuk both commented on a persistent negative attitude toward the project from the city administration. Hill said in 13 years on council he had never witnessed a Saskatoon city manager speak out against a project as Jeff Jorgenson did in a speech on Solair to city council in April. Dream Development, which is building the Brighton neighbourhood nearby, appeared before council to speak against special treatment for Solair. The city received messages from the North Saskatoon Business Association and the Wyant Group urging flexibility from the city in accommodating the proposal.Q: Why was Arbutus so set on that particular piece of land?A: In response to various questions, Drexel said the land was chosen in part because the Rosewood neighbourhood, where Arbutus owns undeveloped land, is too far along. To make the project work, the streets and homes needed to be oriented so their exposure to the sun could be maximized, he said. Drexel also expressed skepticism about partnering with another developer because he thought the project carried too much risk. Arbutus was ready to assume that risk, he said. Arbutus wanted to build an entire neighbourhood so home prices would be competitive with traditional houses and condominiums.
This map of Saskatoon shows the location of the proposed Solair neighbourhood, a solar-powered community with other sustainable features that was proposed for land that is mostly located outside of current city limits by Arbutus Properties of Vancouver. This map also shows the Holmwood Sector and the proposed route for the Saskatoon Freeway. (Arbutus Properties)