Edmonton's Infill Roadmap is 1 Year Old

Edmonton’s Infill Roadmap is one year old. It is a good time to look back over the past year and reflect on our progress, particularly in light of the Infill Roadmap Progress Report. The roadmap was built to address our rapid growth and challenges facing mature communities. Edmonton has to grow much differently in the next thirty years than we did in the last thirty. In order to do this effectively we need to ensure the proper checks and balances are in place for builders and communities.

Edmonton is at a critical stage of its growth. You can see the 2014 City of Edmonton Growth Monitoring report here.

In the past decade, we’ve spent a lot of time wringing our hands over suburban development and the city’s rapid outward growth, and in recent years we've started to take action. This year, with the passage of two bylaw amendments to lower the minimum lot width from 39 feet to 25 feet, and to allow for the development of garage/garden suites in over 100 RF1 neighbourhoods city-wide, we’ve taken small steps to encourage reinvestment in mature neighbourhoods, which will in turn curb some of our outward growth.

Residents, community leagues, and even the City are experiencing certain levels of trepidation over developing more density in our mature neighbourhoods. Many believe that we’ve made way for row housing and condominium developments in RF1 neighbourhoods, which is not the case. But regardless, we can’t let fear of incremental change hold us back from doing what is ultimately right for Edmonton.


Soon rather than Later

People generally agree with the concept of “infill” because the benefits are easy to see. It’s better for the environmental and fiscal well being of cities, it helps support schools and commercial centres in mature neighbourhoods, it can rejuvenate communities that have a decaying housing stock, and in some cases it helps with the affordability of housing for younger families.

In 2014, 86% of Edmonton's new units were built in developing neighbourhoods, and only 14% in mature areas- mostly in central core neighbourhoods. We’re reaching the point where all of the land within our city limits is planned and allocated, and our resources are strained trying to handle the amount of infrastructure that is required to build new neighbourhoods.

Our city's population is projected to be 1.5 million people by the year 2044, which is nearly double our current population. So both from good sense and from necessity, we have to move to increase our city’s density sooner rather than later.

Creating equity but emphasising the core and transit nodes

The Infill Roadmap was drafted to give the city, residents, and developers a better picture of where Edmonton is headed in terms of density and development. At its core, the Infill Roadmap is about equity - ensuring that no neighbourhood bears the brunt of infill development, but also that no area is wholly exempt from contributing to our city’s density. The policy doesn’t allow us, as a Council or a City Administration, to cherry-pick the neighbourhoods that will see infill, which I think objectively, everyone can agree is fair.

In 2014, I held meetings in every community in Ward 10 to inform people about the proposed policies to increase density in the city. I felt it was important to do this because the change in policy that took place in April allowed for the possibility of a few more homes fitting into mature neighbourhoods. People could be affected and had a right to know.

In almost every neighbourhood, at some point someone will stand up and say, “This isn’t the area for infill.” Many have said there are some areas where infill should be focused - close to transit like in the case of Century Park, the downtown core, Blatchford, communities with aging housing stock, such as our RF3 neighbourhoods and on arterial corridors like we have done with the 109 Street ARP. This in fact is where our infill policies encourage most densification. But small increases in the density of all of our mature neighbourhoods contributes to bringing us closer to the goal of a more compact and sustainable city.                


Ensuring Community Voice and Character

Some people had justifiable concerns with new development, and I’ve endeavoured to address the gaps in policy through subsequent motions at Council. We’ve made motions to improve our policies on:

Two of these reports are coming to Executive Committee on October 6th, and will give Council definitive steps that can be taken to improve the experience of infill development in mature communities.

There is no silver bullet in the infill question. We have to always live with the tension of protecting the existing character of neighbourhoods while encouraging creative and modern design. Both of these things make neighbourhoods beautiful. But we cannot dither in indecision for another 10 years - now is the time to move forward. This policy is one that will be good for Edmonton as a whole. 

There are still some holes to be filled in the Infill Roadmap: how we consider the structural integrity of our ravine banks, how we promote building practices that allow our seniors to age in place, and the role of the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay as it relates to subdivision of lots in mature communities. This last question is particularly pressing, as it affects how neighbours are consulted and how “existing character” is considered when a subdivision application is made near them. We need to make sure that meaningful checks and balances exist for communities.

These are gaps that other Councillors and I are actively working to address. Nobody promised that our infill policy would be perfect right away - it’s a process that is going to require growth and change for everyone, City Administration included.

But ultimately, we know that the benefits of infill development make that process worthwhile. As the largest City in our region, we have a duty to be smart and strategic in our regional planning, and that means we must spend time looking not just outward, but inward to accommodate the many people who are choosing to call Edmonton home. The environmental and social benefits of preserving our wetlands and arable farmland on the edges of the City are also enormous.

All in all, I still believe that pursuing the goal of 25% infill development annually will bring us closer to the vision of Edmonton as a globally competitive and admired city. Developing that policy certainly brings a new set of challenges and questions, but they are worth facing head on.


Showing 6 reactions

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  • commented 2016-03-14 15:46:37 -0600
    Savvy blog post ! I was fascinated by the insight . Does anyone know where my assistant would be able to access a blank a form example to edit ?
  • commented 2015-09-24 12:39:35 -0600
    You appear to always want to make everyone happy but be real. The real estate agent Karen Stanko as gone as far as to call us all elitist who live in these areas and accuses us of not being able to get in line with the objective being to provide more “affordable” housing and services which you too are totting.

    Really? By doing this in areas such as Westbrook, Aspen Gardens, Landsdowne, Grandview, Laurier Heights, Crestwood, Quesnell Drive etc etc are you really creating more affordable housing? NO – because of the area the properties will still be unaffordable only the agent and the developer get double the income and commission.

    The bottom line and the objective of this change of using infill and increasing density in established neighbourhoods could have a positive effect on affordable housing and delaying the need for new green field neighbourhoods. While the initial intent was laudable, lumping City wide lot splitting, secondary suites, garage and garden suites together in all residential zones has created impediments to achieving the original objectives. With lot splitting, and the building of duplexes and semi-detached housing where the resulting buildings are selling for $600, $700, $800 thousand dollars we are in no way providing affordable housing and are increasing density minimally.

    It’s been said that the problem with Westbrook Drive properties and other mature neighbourhoods is with lot splitting, and the building of duplexes and semi-detached housing where the resulting buildings are selling for $600, $700, $800 thousand dollars which are in no way providing affordable housing and are increasing density minimally. Only the developers and agents are benefiting. The residents who purchased “homes” in this area rather than “investments” in these areas are the losers. The Edmonton Land use bylaw has always allowed lot splitting in RF1 (single family) zones, requiring that the minimum lot width on subdivision be " at least 39 feet." What this Council did, in April, was reduce the minimum lot width “to at least 25 feet.” This allowed 50 foot lots to be subdivided. The Municipal Government Act (MGA) allows the proponent of the subdivision to appeal a refusal but does not allow others to appeal the granting of a subdivision request. Current Planning, the subdivision authority in Edmonton used to consider the context and size of lots using the mature neighbourhood overlay as justification for their decisions but it doesn’t appear to be the case anymore.

    Let’s get real Michael
  • commented 2015-09-23 15:32:33 -0600
    Thank you for the comments Andrew and Thomas. Andrew as you will see in my blog, I have stated the most significant emphasis of our infill strategy is indeed downtown and on transit oriented development. I have worked tirelessly with the owner of Century Park to restart that development. Good news is coming there soon. Our council is very committed to TOD and we realize as I say in the blog that transit nodes and arterial corridors are where most of our energy should be aimed. But from a planning perspective, with so much of Edmonton’s developed land since the 60’s used for low density RF1 communities, (that in fact all have some degree of transit service and waning amenities), it was difficult to exclude those communities from contributing in some small way to the bigger goal of making Edmonton a more compact city.
  • commented 2015-09-23 12:54:21 -0600
    Since I’m leaving on vacation tmrw, no time to file official objection. As a constituent, I want you to know that I oppose the sub-division of 128 Fairway Drive, and am appalled by the City planning departments ignoring community input. I believe it is up to Council to provide direction to the non-elected heads of City planning as to being responsive to community input.
  • commented 2015-09-23 12:03:15 -0600
    I strongly disagree with your commentary on how infill should work.

    Infill needs to be targeted at neighbourhoods that are close to public transit and amenities. The whole point of infill is to increase densification to improve efficiency in access to transit, amenities and probably most importantly, decrease the number of cars on our roads. Your approach of sprinkling infill throughout the entire city completely goes against this!

    There are multiple suburban areas in Edmonton where the schools are full, there is no public transit within 10-15 minutes walking distance, there are no grocery stores and no gas stations. These areas were designed for cars. That was the short-sightedness of previous councils. If you infill these areas, all you will do is increase the number of cars that need to drive to work or grocery stores, or to far-away schools that actually do have capacity. It not only fails to improve efficiency, but worsens traffic, doubles the number of cars on the road in the neighbourhood for every subdivision.

    The ‘critical mass’ aim of infill is to replace cars. If you can replace a car, you have done your job. People who live close to LRT lines, live there partially because they want to walk to the train and take public transit to work or school. Building townhouses and apartment complexes along these transit lines will achieve this. Look at Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, major cities in Japan, Korea and China! All of these cities have the highest density around these lines to take advantage of mass transit. The goal is to make mass transit so convenient that it is inconvenient to own a car, not just simply have more people live in an area. If all these people who move to the area, own a car and commute every day, then what’s the point! Our arteries will just be even more clogged.

    It is frustrating to me that in the name of equality, we have a shotgun approach to infill. I agree, it’s fair, but I can also say it is isn’t fair that you live in a house and I live an apartment. It’s not fair that you make more money than I do. The point of city planning is to make smart decisions to benefit all people, not blindly follow an ideology. Not only that, but Century Park, the ‘bastion’ of densification will be sitting as a parking lot for 10 years! With all this talk of infill, I’d think that you would offer incentives for the developer to actually build Century Park instead of subdividing lots in quiet suburbia.

    The part that angers me the most about your commentary Mr. Walters, is the comment that nobody promised the infill process would be perfect from the start. This blatant use of the strawman argument is just ridiculous! No one expects any process will ever be perfect at any time! What we ask for is smart, thorough, careful planning! Look at the Metro Line! Look at the council’s decision to move the NAIT Station to create 10-16 minute waits at 106 St! Look at the council’s approval of building taller towers in the warehouse district, only to shade the solar panels of the neighboring eco-friendly building! We voted for you for your vision and ideology. Now we ask that you apply that vision and ideology into making well-thought-out decisions, because if you fail to do so, you will hear from us on the next election.
  • published this page in News 2015-09-16 10:20:07 -0600