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Tag: Infill Development

It’s not “crap”, it’s just not very good.

molson

I promised myself at one point this past winter, that I’d make the time to head down to the Molson Brewery and spend some time taking pictures of brick, and masonry..and history. Passing by the site today, I see that a dismantling of the Molson sign has begun. It might have started a while back, but I noticed it today. If were moving forward with an unpopular development proposal for the site and expecting media cameramen to make an appearance, I’d probably pick this as a good time to have an iconic feature removed from view.

Folks in Oliver have a great community league. It’s active, it’s engaged, it’s forward thinking, and it’s home to the next generation of volunteers on which the future of the community league system will depend. As a community league civics director, and as a member of the Federation of Community Leagues Planning Committee, I’ve been impressed by how they’ve approached the proposed redevelopment of the Molson Brewery over the past year.

Identifying concerns with the site’s proposed rezoning, it’s amenities, and a lack of residential uses on a downtown property along a major transit corridor; The Oliver League has connected with all the right people. They’ve held community meetings. They’ve developed positive recommendations and have been ready and willing to work with city planners and the property owner to develop something positive for the area, for downtown and for the preservation of it’s history.

And today Council passed a proposed rezoning which pretty much ignores all of that. The kind of decision that ends with volunteers leaving forehead sized dents in the fabric walls outside Council Chambers.

The Mayor and Council that famously promised “no more crap” didn’t exactly pass crap today. They just did what they’ve frequently done over and over again, in simply accepting what was deposited at their door. Councillors are meant to be the keepers and dreamers of a city’s vision, someone else could be the status quo rubber stamp society.

It’s the legal role of the Sustainable Development department to process applications to rezone a property. And herein lies my challenge to the next Council that will take shape at the end of October.

Rebuild the road that leads to you.

It’s the job of planners to prepare zoning applications and bring them to Council. They don’t have to like them, and they don’t have to recommend them, they simply have to prepare them for Council’s consideration. Outside of that, our planning and development process is open to a world of change. We don’t hire individuals trained to simply process applications. We hire educated, professional urban planners. Minds that can interpret and articulate a city vision. That can work with engaged stakeholders and incorporate input from all sources into a recommendation for Council.

Council could have sent today’s rezoning application back to city administration for reconsideration. Or city administration could have gone to Council with an additional alternative proposal, built collaboratively with all interested parties, and with our planners’ own sense and vision of what they want for the core of our city.

Voters will pick new faces for Council in October. Which of those, if any, will take on the role of changing the face our city’s administration. The city has hired some excellent individuals to work in it’s sustainable development department. Encourage them to come to Council with more than cookie-cutter proposals built on narrow vision and input. Developers in Edmonton aren’t known for being particularly experimental or open to taking risks. Don’t be afraid, current and future Councillors, to say ‘no’ once and awhile, and show them that the risk they perceive, might just be a great development that a community wholeheartedly wants.

Edmonton Molson brewery site rezoned amid controversy – Edmonton Journal

Edmonton city councillors approve controversial Oliver plan – Metro Edmonton

Controversial rezoning of Molson brewery site approved by council – CBC News

 

Development Dialog – Summarizing a meeting of minds at a west-end community hall

Earlier this week a group of community and development industry representatives met at the Glenwood Community Hall to discuss proposed amendments to Edmonton’s zoning bylaw and mature neighbourhood overlay.

Some material from the EFCL is available here – below are the presentation materials from a city of Edmonton open house last month, and the complete Council report with mark-ups of all the proposed changes.

I spent a good portion of the evening in what became a very interesting discussion between community and development folks regarding dialog between communities and development proponents, the benefits of proactive consultation, and acknowledging developments which contribute positively to the community through both the quality of the product and up-front discussion.

Below is a summary of the notes which I took throughout. Coming from multiple sides of the development process, I think they speak to the potential for not only positive and enhanced consultation processes, with the potential to alleviate neighbourhood concerns and ultimately create a better housing product in infill situations, but avenues to create neighbourhood plans and architectural/design themes for neighbourhoods.

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Up-front discussion between the community and proponents of a project could help to also facilitate development (addressing concerns about timing) while improving the quality of the project. A positive relationship with a community can reduce time requirements and allow uses to remain as discretionary. “Balance is the key”.

From there the discussion went it the relationship between residents and development proponents. There was a consensus that nobody wants to a product that detracts from the look of the community, that’s constructed without regard to community character or strong design standards, by someone whose interest isn’t in building a community and their reputation as a builder.

There was discussion about design standards and a general theme being established for an area through zoning. As well, it was discussed that there are already some standards in place which development officers could and should be using to encourage duplexes with architectural interest, that don’t simply have a copy/paste mirrored look.

Developers noted that one or more poor quality neighbouring projects can adversely affect one’s strategy in a neighbourhood. As well, that certainty is positive when making an investment – leaving to much poorly defined or up to the discretion of the development officer, increases investment risk.

There was also talk about ways that communities can acknowledge positive developments & consultation practices. Highlighting those that make the effort above those who disregard community concerns or are simply looking to “get in/get out”.

Edmonton Zoning Changes – low-density zones and mature neighbourhoods

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UnCoordination – Edmonton’s Growth Coordination Strategy

A civic Growth Coordination Strategy, an objective of the Municipal Development Plan is on the agenda today for City Council’s executive committee. For a number of engaged Edmontonians, the draft strategy and admin report released as part of the committee agenda late last week may well be the first opportunity that they’ve had to view it. For other community stakeholders, the strategy didn’t come into view until after leaving a small group of ‘key stakeholders’ and arriving already in a draft form.

The lack of public consultation has already been well criticised. What I’ll suggest here today, is that the document we have here in front of us, falls well short of the goals established for it in the Municipal Development Plan, hands excessive discretion to city administration to carry out its action items, and while it speaks to the necessity of information in the decision-making process, it fails in that regard.

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Section 3.1.1 of the MDP established the policy directions expected in future growth coordination and the integration of higher density land uses with LRT expansion and transit centres. It encourages that a minimum of 25% (another debate right there) of housing-unit growth occur within mature and established communities. It addresses the timing and phasing of new growth in ‘developing and planned neighbourhoods’.

Furthermore, in section 3.6.1.1, the GCS is tasked with providing measures for developing neighbourhoods relating to “livability, current and future public infrastructure investment and long term financial sustainability” in order to “inform Edmonton’s decisions on future residential growth and expansion”.

 

From the MDP

Manage future public obligations and growth opportunities – Approve new growth combined with its accompanying infrastructure obligations when it can be demonstrated that the City can afford it.

3.1.1.6 Develop a growth coordination strategy to address timing and phasing of new residential growth in developing and planned neighbourhoods. The strategy will relate to the City’s strategic goals, current and future public infrastructure investment, long term financial sustainability and the amount, location and pace of population and employment growth; and will establish: Expectations for completing developing neighbourhoods – Expectations for initiating new Neighbourhood Structure Plans

3.1.1.7 The Growth Coordination Strategy will identify infrastructure and service obligations related to developing neighbourhoods and in conjunction with the Integrated Infrastructure Management Plan will outline the City’s strategy for providing this infrastructure and infrastructure required by new growth.

3.1.1.8 Proponents for a new Neighbourhood Structure Plan will seek Council’s authority to prepare the plan. The information supplied by the applicant and administration will allow Council to provide direction and permission in accordance with Council’s Vision.

3.1.1.9 Information that proponents and administration supply will include the existing infrastructure and the funded and unfunded commitment for the sector, the relationship of the sector’s infrastructure and funding to the other sectors in the City, the current population capacity in the sector, the relationship of the proposed plan to transit, the availability and timing of supportive City infrastructure related to the proposed plan’s approval and significant environmental impacts.

3.1.1.10 The Growth Coordination Strategy will address demand for land, housing units, and housing choice at the regional, city-wide and sector level.

 

And From the Administration Report

While referred to as the Growth Coordination Strategy, it essentially is a framework to identify and manage future public obligations and accommodate the growth of new residential communities through the following actions:

• Monitoring infrastructure commitments and growth indicators as specified in The Way We Grow and incorporating growth information into departmental master plans, three and ten year budget planning and long range financial planning.

• Reporting to City Council through annual growth monitoring reports, and at the time Area and Neighbourhood Structure Plans are advanced for Council’s consideration. 

• Coordinating the planning and provision of infrastructure in developing neighbourhoods.

• Communicating and collaborating with private, public and non-profit community builders to meet the physical and social/ recreational needs of new communities.

 

The first sentence from the administrative report to Council, essentially lays out the title of “Growth Coordination Strategy” as a misnomer. Where the MDP implies an active role for this strategy, in addressing housing across the city and region, and in addressing the “timing and phasing of new residential growth in developing and planned neighbourhoods”, the final product forwarded for Council’s consideration, ultimately takes an idle role.

What the strategy, as presented, does not do is prioritize areas for growth or specify directions to ensure that future growth is contiguous. In failing to do so, it loses to opportunity to encourage growth, as close as possible to existing resources, infrastructure and amenities, or to ensure the completion of developing areas prior to new develop leap-frogging past.

The strategy speaks of the need for “comprehensive and timely information”. It also speaks at a high-level about the servicing and amenity needs of new communities. But it falls short of providing detailed financial information regarding the costs and revenues of new outward development and infill redevelopment (in fact, as the strategy has developed, references to established and mature communities have fallen away). What are the costs to the city of servicing and providing for new communities; those that have been completed, and those still in the process of being completed.

The MDP specifies targets for new development, and new housing within the existing urban form. Infill development, the redevelopment of underutilized & vacant sites within established and core areas are unaddressed.

 

Reporting to City Council through growth monitoring reports and neighbourhood and Area Structure Plan applications. In addition to receiving the Annual Growth monitoring Report, Council will receive relevant growth information at the time an area or neighbourhood structure plan is submitted for their approval consideration.

Coordinating planning and provision of infrastructure in developing neighbourhoods. This will be done internally through use of consistent, comprehensive and timely information provided to all business areas of the City. The Growth Coordination committee will allow the opportunity for coordination with external development partners.

Communicating and collaborating with private, public and non-profit community builders to meet the physical and social/recreational needs of new communities. This will be done through a Growth Coordination committee which will provide a forum for ongoing discussion and information sharing of growth information well in advance of plan submissions. A terms of reference will be developed for the Committee as a first step in the implementation of the Growth coordination Strategy.

 

The strategy leans largely on the creation of a “Growth Coordination Committee”. Who will be represented on the committee? Who are its key stakeholders? What are its terms of reference? Are these decisions to be made by Council or left to the discretion of city administration?

This strategy can be a success. It can help prioritize and guide future growth, it can support redevelopment within mature communities, and can actively guide the creation of housing option and density targets across the city. It can be rebuilt, which means it needs far more input and work than can be done within Council Chambers. This document should be sent back, and ‘its redevelopment’ should begin with a strong public involvement plan and a comprehensive group of key stakeholders. Speakers can line up at a Council meeting to speak to this 5 minutes at a time, but a document like this, which has such importance in fulfilling the goals of the MDP, both it and the public deserve much more than that.

Awards Night – The best and worst of infill

I want to spend a few minutes here talking about infill development. And I want to do so without digging into the details of the Municipal Development Plan or forthcoming Growth Coordination Strategy (although I don’t why I bother bringing it up since it doesn’t do much to mention mature area redevelopment or coordinate much of anything), or the mass of changes city staffers are proposing for the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay and several residential zones.

Infill can very much be described as being a case of the good, the bad and the wrapped in grey vinyl siding ugly. We don’t do much to acknowledge impressive infill projects, architectural interest, family-friendly amenities and the use of desired & durable materials. There isn’t much acknowledgement to be had for engaging with a community early, being willing to adapt, to respond to feedback, advice and criticisms, and creating a better project as a result.

Cool and innovative, a square box wrapped in vinyl and built to minimum code, or something in between, it’s time communities and a city looking to redevelop and densify, helped to put some space between them, if only ceremonially.

Call it; The Mayor’s Infill Awards as decided upon by Edmonton’s Communities.

As a mature neighbourhood resident, I want a way to acknowledge this. It’s not everyone’s favorite design of course, but I love its design along with its architecture and materials. I very much appreciate that its builder, happens to be the only developer in the community, who in my three+ years as a community league volunteer, proactively reached out to the league and to the neighbours to discuss its design and any potential issues.

It deserves some recognition, the chance to stand out on a larger scale than just the block face.

So what are the metrics for deciding award winners. Design, architecture, materials, and public consultation to be sure. But meetings and the end product certainly aren’t the be all and end all.

Another infill project here in Glenwood. This one wasn’t built by the original owner who rezoned the property. This property was home to a typical small bungalow, which at the end of its life became a drug house, a victim of a fire, and then it sat, an empty, derelict mess for well over a year. The community pursued every channel currently provided by the city to have it remediated, including an appeal to Council to make its clean-up a prerequisite to rezoning. We were certain the property, despite being rezoned for redevelopment, would sit as is for some time. Council disagreed, and in the end we were right, unfortunately. The lot was eventually flipped and redeveloped. But if it had been a product of the original developer.. deserving of a Razzie, imo.

A duplex on 163st nearing completion. It’s a pleasing design, built by a developer who’s been responsive to contact from the community. The removal of the older home and clean-up of the site was done in a timely manner, and construction in a tight environment and along a busy road has been done without major disruptions.

Another duplex in my community, built not for resale but by a family to stay close under one roof. It’s been referenced by other developers to gain community support for their projects, although their end products didn’t resemble it in the slightest. It’s look and feel, it’s amenity space, it’s integration with the character of the street and community deserve acknowledgement. I can see folks in Glenwood singling it out as an example of desirable infill development.

It’s been awhile since the words “no more crap” were uttered. Why don’t we take some time and encourage communities to single out the best builders and redevelopments in our mature communities.

 


 

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.