Infill in our Evolving City

There has been a lot of discussion in the news and in our neighbourhoods in recent years about infill. Some of us have heard about it second hand while others in the mature communities of Ward 5 might be experiencing infill construction on their streets right now. In the past few years, the City of Edmonton has taken a renewed focus on infill and building in mature neighbourhoods. Even though we might not be directly affected by infill, as residents we should all understand what the City is trying to do to ease the process for everyone.

img_9472For the City of Edmonton, infill is defined as any new construction in established neighbourhoods. This can include new construction on an empty lot, the teardown and replacement of a home, the addition of a secondary or garage suite, or the subdividing of a lot into to several lots happening in neighbourhoods defined as mature in the City’s zoning. Many of our city’s older neighbourhoods have seen a decline in population over the past generation as Edmonton continues to expand out in all four directions with new home construction. Ultimately, what infill comes down to extending the lifespan of older neighbourhoods and attracting people in all stages of life to communities closer to the core.

To address Edmonton’s disproportionate growth and encourage more building inwards, City Council adopted Edmonton’s Infill Roadmap in 2014. The roadmap lays out 23 actions for the city’s administration to advance infill, increase communication with residents, and improve the public’s understanding of the process. The actions are split into five categories: communication, collaboration, knowledge, rules, and process. Over the past two years significant progress has been made on these 23 actions. At an update to City Council last fall, 11 actions had been completed, eight were in progress, and four were being planned for the upcoming year.

As the City of Edmonton is planning for improvements to the infill process, residents across the city are continuing to experience it firsthand in their communities. It hasn’t all gone smoothly. Neighbours to infill development have been concerned as new construction in their established neighbourhoods has disrupted their streets, impacted their mature trees, and changed the look of their communities – all of these are real concerns for residents. file_000Last week, I attended an information meeting in Laurier Heights organized by the community league. While there, I had an opportunity to both hear from residents who are frustrated by infill and learn what the City of Edmonton is doing to address residents’ concerns. One of the concerns I heard from residents was about dealing with builders and contractors who are not respectful of the neighbours of a development project. This ranged from not obtaining the correct permits from the city to leaving construction garbage in the neighbourhood and blocking street traffic with equipment. Residents have shared these concerns with the City of Edmonton and bylaw enforcement has been working to address these issues. The Community Standards branch, which enforces City bylaws, can now actively ticket infractions for first time offences. There is also now an Infill Compliance Team that is actively out citing infractions rather than waiting for a complaint from a neighbouring resident. Improvements to how the City of Edmonton manages infill is based on the feedback they hear from residents.

In addition to complaints about how infill projects have disrupted neighbourhoods in these ways, residents also have concerns about how they also change the feel of a neighbourhood. While talking to residents in Laurier Heights, I asked them to share with me examples of what makes their neighbourhood unique in character and feel. They shared specific examples like large lots with mature trees, spacious yards with mostly bungalows, and rear facing garages. One of the actions from img_0736Edmonton’s Infill Roadmap is to review the currently Mature Neighbourhood Overlay (MNO), zoning that affects all of the established neighbourhoods in Edmonton. The consultation for these proposed changes is currently underway and there in an opportunity for all residents to have their voices heard through drop-in interactive sessions. Some of the residents’ concerns about neighbourhood character could be addressed through the changes to the MNO. Other concerns, like saving mature trees, will be under review as part of the upcoming City Charter consultations with the Government of Alberta.

Cities are constantly evolving and responding to the needs of its residents. This means that as long as there is demand for new housing options in established neighbourhoods, infill will be a part of our evolution as a city. In The Way We Grow, Edmonton’s Municipal Development Plan (2010), our City Council set an infill target of 25%. To date, we are barely reaching half of that target at 13%. More infill will be coming to our neighbourhoods and we all need to be prepared to learn about, understand, and work to influence the processes as infill in our city continues to be developed.

I would like to hear about your thoughts on infill and learn about your personal experiences with it in Ward 5. I invite you to share your thoughts here on my blog or consider contacting me by email, on social media, or look for me at community events – perhaps I will see you at the upcoming Mature Neighbourhood Overlay consultation on Thursday night!

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