The City of Edmonton has unveiled its draft “Infill Action Plan” this week. 24 ‘action items’ to spur and facilitate (re)development in Edmonton’s mature communities.
Given the development-centric nature of this plan, I’d expect that it’ll have more of a real-world impact on neighbourhoods, and a shelf-life far greater than the “Elevate” report – The end, and seldom heard of, product of Mayor Mandel’s Community Sustainability Taskforce. The creation of which included a great deal of planning & development discussion, much of which was never seen in the final product. (I had the opportunity to work on the taskforce’s development committee, along with five years spent on the EFCL’s Planning & Dev committee’s… Whose work is chronically under-represented, but I digress.)
After a quick read-through, and a slower second look, my initial thoughts:
Develop and implement an infill communications strategy to share information clearly and widely, and to enhance communication between the City, builders and residents. This will improve the way the City shares information about infill with Edmontonians, help clarify how and where people can be engaged with the infill process, and encourage more discussions about new housing and change in established neighbourhoods.
The devil is of course in the details, but unless you live in a community with an active league, with an even more active civics director – You’re probably not going to see much advocacy or analysis of planning and development issues in your neighbourhood. Done well, this is a bonus for residents and volunteers.
Offer a publicly accessible online tool that helps residents and builders visualize what could be built on a lot in an established neighbourhood. This will increase residents’ and builders’ general understanding of the Zoning Bylaw’s rules related to infill and the development potential of a property by visually communicating what sorts of new development may occur on a site that is zoned a particular way.
Require notices about development permits to be posted on site to let everyone know what will be built and who to contact for more information. This will help keep community members informed about change in their neighbourhoods, direct them to the right people for more information, and support better relationships between the City, citizens and builders. Both good ideas. An online visualization tool however would hopefully include an analysis of sun/shade impacts for increased heights and lot coverage, abutting traditional existing structure.
Both good ideas. An online visualization tool however would hopefully include an analysis of sun/shade impacts for increased heights and lot coverage, abutting traditional existing structure.
Pilot an “infill Action Advisory Group” made up of citizens and stakeholders whose role would be to provide objective advice on infill related matters to City Administration. This will improve communication and help build trust between citizens, builders and the City, bring a broad a range of perspectives into infill projects and processes, and provide an opportunity to learn from a new approach to engaging Edmontonians in advancing infill development.
I would say that the city actually already has one – in the EFCL’s planning & dev committee. The committee regually meets with city officials, developers, and through earned experience, its elected volunteers gain the knowledge to understand, and professionally & completantly analyse planning proposals.
Support and work with partners to hold infill design awards or competitions in order to encourage more creative infill design and foster an ongoing conversation about what great infill means for Edmonton. This will catalyze innovative infill projects and ideas, foster dialogue around the design of new housing, and promote a wider discussion about residential infill in Edmonton for residents, builders and the City.
Develop an infill specific information resource to provide residents and builders with easy access to information related to how the City plans for, assesses and responds to drainage needs in established areas, and what people can do to address issues or concerns on their own lots. This will help answer residents’ questions related to
drainage improvements and planning, as well as provide options for individual actions that address drainage issues on private lots.
A frequent complaint community league volunteers have heard is that of drainage. Of the small bungalow which now finds itself flooded from runoff from a new, larger abutting development.
Reduce barriers to building row housing in the RF3 (Small Scale Infill) zone by removing location restrictions and changing the site regulations currently limiting this form of infill on RF3 lots. This will make row housing easier to build by simplifying the approval process, responding to growing market demand for row housing, and may help increase affordability in older neighbourhoods by supporting more housing options.
When amended during the last set of residential zone changes, RF3 in several ways became the dog’s breakfast of zones – So it’s probably not surprising to see a push for its widespread use. At the time, community advocates (unsuccessfully) asked that the amendments be sent back for further work, siting:
RF3 Zone Amendments:
Send the RF3 Zone Amendments back to the Administration for more work.
There are a number of concerns with the RF3 zone which need to be addressed, including:
There will be difficulty in retaining any single detached housing in RF3 neighbourhoods, given the proposed Permitted Uses (which trump ARPs) and the proposed minimum site width regulations for 2-to-4 unit housing. If a variety of housing is the major goal of the Infill Guidelines, then there must be a way to ensure that at least some single detached housing is retained.
There is inadequate minimum site width for corner flanking row housing. The Infill Guidelines state, “Where Row Housing is developed on flanking lots, the lot should have an adequate width (min 20.0 m) to provide each unit with a private outdoor amenity area, and to maintain privacy and sunlight on the adjacent property.” In contrast, the proposed bylaw requires a mere 14.8 m site width for RF3 row housing, which is the same as two- unit housing. (This must be a mistake!) Plus there is no requirement to have an additional width requirement for the end corner row housing dwelling to accommodate the larger corner setback .
The Site coverage for RF3 Row Housing has been changed to the RF5 coverage of 45% (from the 40% coverage in RF3). Such a dramatic change should require a rezoning to RF5.
In addition, we trust that Administration will be adding a regulation which will indicate that, “Mechanical systems shall be located to ensure that noise does not impact adjacent residences”, as recommended in the Infill Guidelines, and directed by Council. We recommend that the mechanical noise regulation apply to all lots, not just narrow lots.
A widespread push for the use of RF3 zoning can be questioned – At the sime time Council is pushing for development certainty for newer neighbourhoods, permissive uses make it difficult to establish statutory development guidelines and vision through Area Redevelopment Plans in older ones.
Revise the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay (MNO) of the Zoning Bylaw to reduce barriers to small scale infill and improve the approvals process. This will help support more infill across the wide diversity of Edmonton’s mature neighbourhoods, increase predict-ability and reduce the adversarial nature of the approvals process, provide more design flexibility, and encourage infill development that responds to the context of a property.
For this suggestion to have made it into a draft plan, specific amendments to the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay must have been proposed. To development regulations, public consultation and appeals processes – specific proposals should be included, as approval of the action plan does compell administration to bring them forward to Council.
The plan contains suggestions to be heralded, those that require caution, and all need to be laid out in detail and in a thorough consultation process.
What’s it missing?
Something big, and a suggestion that has put forward since the development of the Elevate report. The kind of development model with a record of success in Canada and the U.S. and the sort of thing we should absolutely be pilotting if serious about meeting quotas for infill development.
Non-profit entities, started with a seed grant that are led by community board members. In targeted areas of a city, they take on redevelopment of underutilized, and derelict properties. Building attractive housing and amenities, that yield a return sufficient to fund future projects. It’s an idea the consideration of which deserves an action item.