The Skinny on Sub-Dividing

Last week, a Councillor Inquiry was made to explore whether properties with restrictive covenants could be taxed differently. While I support exploring tools that can remove barriers to new grocery stores opening in neighbourhoods, I was surprised to learn this motion also targeted individual homeowners who have restrictive covenants on their properties.

Lot splitting is an issue I’ve been hearing about at the door steps and through social media discussions. Like many Ward 5 residents, I believe that:

  • People should have the right to decide what they do on (and with) their private property within our regulatory framework; AND
  • Communities should have a say with what happens in their neighbourhood.

Private property rights

I do not support different taxes for individual homeowners who have registered restrictive covenants on their property to prevent their lot from subdividing in the future. This is a basic property right and individual homeowners should not be penalized for exercising that right.

At the same time, I appreciate that those wishing to subdivide their lots are also exercising their private property rights. This right has been provided by the current City Council as a way to help the city meet our goals for housing options and decreasing our urban sprawl, which can help keep our taxes lower. What concerns me is the process of how the extension and allowance these property rights regarding infill came to be.

Community input

The subdivision idea came out of the first Evolving Infill conversation. One resulting action was to allow skinny lots in our Zoning Bylaw. Evolving Infill included conversations with over 1,000 Edmontonians, but when the actual lot splitting amendments came forward to Council in April 2015, no additional consultation had been undertaken. The consultation summary in Attachment 3 of Bylaw 17116, which enacted the lot splitting change, went so far as to suggest that the need for narrow lots are “understood to be necessary and accepted throughout Edmonton.” This was clearly not the case.

The fact that so many Edmontonians were caught unaware by this change is unacceptable to me. It is at these decision-making junctures that the voices of Edmontonians are most effective and need to be heard.

As your Ward 5 Councillor, I will give residents a seat at the table for these kinds of significant issues, making sure your voices are heard before decisions are made. As your Councillor, I commit to:

  • Sharing weekly information about items being debated at Council on my website
  • Holding quarterly community forums so I can hear your thoughts before decisions are made
  • Holding town hall meetings in Ward 5 when significant issues will impact Ward 5 residents or when requested by a large number of Ward 5 constituents
  • Pushing City administration to raise awareness and information sharing about important changes.

We have come a long way since this bylaw was passed in 2015 and I am excited to see the City shifting how it works with citizens. As a member of the Policy, Vision, and Framework Working Group on the Council Initiative on Public Engagement, I helped lead a fundamental change in how this outreach happens and was encouraged to see Council adopt the recommendations of this report. I am hopeful we will begin to see these new principles put into practice, particularly in the Evolving Infill 2.0 conversations. The more recent Mature Neighbourhood Overlay engagement events also went far in bringing people to the conversation, with over 8,000 interactions during the year long project. Beyond City-driven initiatives, our communities can also take action. I was impressed by the community-organized infill discussion panel hosted by Laurier Heights last fall. This forum provided an opportunity for residents to hear information from a range of panelists and discuss their reactions thoughtfully with their neighbours.

These conversations are essential to the success of our city, as what we each do on our private property has collective consequences. Restrictive covenants do have an impact on suburban sprawl, just as skinny lots have an impact on adjacent properties. Balancing these impacts as a community is imperative. In upcoming blog posts, I’ll share how I’ve been weighing the pros and cons of neighbourhood change, and what steps I think we next need to take to ensure we balance the needs of existing residents with our overall city goals. Until then, please keep sharing your feedback with me online and in-person when I visit your Ward 5 neighbourhood.

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