Of Infill and Absolutes

This afternoon at a public hearing, City Council referred a bylaw which would have made a number of changes to the Zoning Bylaw and Mature Neighbourhood Overlay, back to administration and a January 28th Executive Committee meeting. You can grab some analysis on it here.

Got home and and felt inspired to hammer out some thoughts on infill development, absolutes, the planning process in our city’s mature communities, and perceptions of it.

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Second only perhaps to Cell Towers, few discussions in the realm of civic politics can draw out absolutes and straw man arguments like infill development & redevelopment. It easily becomes a realm where wanting a transition between higher-densities and existing housing stock can easily, and it does, become rebutted with generalized statements about communities opposing redevelopment.

Take for instance the proposed large site rezoning proposed for the Malmo Plains community, recently highlighted by the Edmonton Journal. City Administration took the rare step of recommending that Council refuse the application on the basis that the proposed tower would be an unacceptable intrusion on the surrounding homes, “without being sensitive to any form of transitional housing densities between this use and the existing developments”.

The site is heading back to Council’s agenda later this year with an application for a new Direct Control zone and a doubling of the proposed densities. The proposed transition in the new application is in regards to townhomes, 3 1/2 storeys in height. There Is a request by the community to lower their height by a storey to better integrate with the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay and the surrounding homes, an attempt to cease development. No, it appears to be a reasonable compromise by a community that accepts higher densities and sees the opportunities for it, but desires solid planning.

This morning City Council voted to refer a series of changes to the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay and the RF1-RF5 residential zones back to city administration and a January 28th executive committee meeting. A desire by Councillor Sloan to hear from the 13+ registered speakers before sending the bylaw away was denied.

Were the 13 community representatives in attendance opposed to redevelopment in their neighbourhoods? Of course not. We choose to call these communities home, and for those taking the time out of their day to appear at city hall, the motivation is very clearly not to stop development or freeze investment in their neighbourhoods.

In fact, I look to my own motivations and combined with what I see from other passionate community advocates is a strong desire to invest in our communities. As volunteers our investment is in sweat as we look to revitalize amenities which allow us to live locally without being dependant on the use of a vehicle, and to preserve our community schools. A symbiotic relationship which requires new housing stock for seniors in need of more supportive housing options, and young families looking for a place to call home.

Little is accomplished by referring to a desire for consultation or debate as opposition to development. Nor is much done by foregoing a detailed planning process for a tunnel vision on units built.

From the proposed amendments on today’s Council agenda, is it good planning, for example, to forgo the character of the block to allow new home setbacks which could well result in reduced sight-lines which hinder the good planning that comes from crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED). Are some of the proposed small lot regulations going to provide the homes/amenity spaces desired by young families looking to live in the urban core?

These are the detailed discussions to have going forward. It’s not resistance to redevelopment, it’s a desire to see planning which will lead to desirable infill development, and multiple units which can attract a market which right now is finding its housing stock in the suburbs. Fighting sprawl and the continual development of new neighbourhoods to the outskirts of the city, making more efficient use of existing infrastructure, and encouraging reinvestment in mature neighbourhoods requires buy-in from all sides; communities, builders and buyers. The time spent on good planning, and the political will to balance all sides can be time consuming, but it shouldn’t be played down or disregarded as a nuisance. There are productive discussions to be had which can well lead to great long-term gains.

I hope the coming discussions on these, the proposed MNO and zoning changes, serve to prove that. But it won’t happen if those, with whom decision making power resides, treat this process and the coming discussion as a check mark on a list of things to do on the way to executive committee and eventual approval.

2 Comments

  • Derrick Forsythe
    October 30, 2012 - 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Reference the proposal to split 50 foot lots – I can tell you Queen Mary Park is not in favour of allowing that change to occur. It is specifically the larger lots with their back yards that has attracted a number of young families to the community.

    The option of living on small lots already exists in the numerous developments on the edges of the city. Increasing density closer to the core can be better achieved through brownfield development like that proposed in teh Downtown North Edge Study.

    In our community there are just over 300 RF1 homes left – they were identified in the updated ARP as important in maintaining the “biodiversity” our residents felt was imperative for a healthy community.

    Comunities splitting on the issue will enable a divide and conquer strategy where the city can play one community off against another.

    Probably best the league presidents – thorugh the EFCL or on their own – talk about how we as a group of communiites present on this issue.

    • jpost
      October 30, 2012 - 7:34 pm | Permalink

      Hi Derrick,

      An ARP would still be the guiding document for land-use in a community. Getting to a subdivided lot would still require a rezoning from RF1, which if contrary to the ARP would still require an amendment (which admittedly isn’t the hardest process these days, but the next Council may have a different stance). Is subdividing a lot overbuilding or reducing amenity space below what would be acceptable to a young family? The devil is in the details, and with the delay we’ll get to have the debate that wasn’t available to us prior to yesterday’s public hearing.

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