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City makes progress towards infill goal

February 21, 2017

Nearly one quarter of all new housing in Edmonton last year was built in mature and core neighbourhoods, according to the 2016 Mature Neighbourhood Reinvestment Report. At 24%, this is up significantly from 2015 and is only one percent away from the 25% by 2018 target set in Edmonton’s Municipal Development Plan, The Way We Grow.

“While there are many factors that influence development trends in a city,” says Peter Ohm, Chief City Planner, City of Edmonton.
“We are optimistic that this report shows the policies and planning initiatives we have put in place to grow a balanced and sustainable
city are starting to take hold.” Here are some other key findings in the report:
  • Growth in mature neighbourhoods increased to 24% in 2016 from 13% in 2015.
  • There were 2,022 new units in mature neighbourhoods in 2016, compared to 1,701 in 2015.
  • 2016 marks a 10-year high in annual residential net unit growth in Edmonton’s mature neighbourhoods.
  • The mature neighbourhoods with the most new housing unit gains were Queen Mary Park (180 units), Griesbach (149 units) and Strathcona (87 units).
  • Multi-family development accounted for the majority of new units in mature neighborhoods in 2016.
  • Permits were granted for 336 new secondary and six demolitions for a total of 330 new secondary suites in 2016.
“We have made progress for sure,” says Ohm, “but we still have work to do to keep this momentum going.” Work on planning and policies to support Edmonton’s growth In, Up and Out will continue with Evolving Infill 2.0. A renewed focus will be on increasing housing diversity through Transit Oriented Development, nodes and corridors, mid-rise multi-family units and other innovative strategies.

For more information:

Media contact:
Adrienne F. Hill
Communications Advisor
Sustainable Development
2016 infill numbers nearly reach city hall's 10-year target
A surge in downtown construction and a slowdown in suburban growth pushed Edmonton’s infill numbers to within spitting distance of council’s 10-year target last year.

In 2008, Edmonton set a 10-year goal of having one quarter of all new homes to be built each year located within existing areas. On Tuesday, city officials released last year’s total: 24 per cent.

“We’re feeling pretty good about some of the efforts we’ve made to attract investment back to the inner city and mature neighbourhoods,” said Peter Ohm, head of city planning.

“It’s a combination of all the work we’ve done,” said Ohm, pointing to the increased zoning opportunities to create secondary suites, split lots and build duplexes, plus towers in the downtown core.
Edmonton's new infill squad gives 114 tickets to neighbourhood homebuilders
Edmonton’s new infill police made surprise visits on 416 residential building sites in their first year of operations and community leagues say it’s starting to make a difference.

“The general impression is things have improved,” said Bev Zubot, planning analyst for the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues.

More boulevard tree trunks are being protected, and more builders are getting permits before crossing the boulevard and driving over the tree roots, she said. “There was no enforcement of that before, zero.”

The compliance team released its first update Thursday, one year after council sought to crack down on fly-by-night operators. It goes to council’s urban planning committee for public presentation and debate Wednesday.

The team found 815 infractions, gave 493 verbal warnings, 205 written notices, 114 tickets and three stop work orders. The city expects some of those to be fought in court.
Edmonton to boost inspections on infill developments
A boost in Edmonton infill inspections isn’t exactly going to solve headaches for long-time residents, according to frustrated groups.

The city announced plans Wednesday to check up on developments more often, as community members continue to grumble about the "wild goose chases" that often happen when citizens call inspectors to check infill developments — those sites that usually see two skinny homes replace a bungalow.

“Citizens shouldn’t have to navigate the city bureaucracy to get this solved,” said Bev Zubot, with the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues, noting inspectors could be more proactive.

“If a citizen calls 311, they should have direct access to (the inspection team).”

Edmonton is looking to increase the number of ‘proactive’ inspections — which means they go out on their own to ensure developers are complying — to 504 in 2017, a 122 per cent jump from the 227 proactive inspections conducted last year.

Edmonton to get proactive on infill development inspections
The City of Edmonton is heading in the right direction when it comes to infill development in mature neighbourhoods, says Bev Zubot, planning advisor with the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues.

However, there are still too many infill inspections resulting from neighbours' complaints, she said.

"There has been improvement in the inspections, with some proactive inspections rather than relying 100 per cent on complaints," Zubot said Wednesday following an urban planning committee meeting at city hall.

In an effort to improve that, the committee voted to spend an additional $40,000 on clerical help so that compliance officers can be freed up to spend more time doing inspections.
Edmonton has smoothed the rough edges when it comes to infill, says mayor
Edmonton has built a better way when it comes to infill construction, says Mayor Don Iveson.

Noting improvements to infill construction practices, the mayor on Tuesday said the 2017 infill construction season is shaping up to be the best yet.

“Infill helps make the best use of our existing infrastructure and creates more housing options for Edmontonians and their families, which is important for the social sustainability of our city over the short and long term,” Iveson said in a news release.
Now that we’re making progress on construction compliance and enforcement, I believe our next big challenge is to deal with the cost and availability of infill. I have heard from many of you that these are the biggest issues you face when wanting to purchase an infill home. A few months ago, Urban Planning Committee discussed the ways in which the MNO restricts the development of multi-family homes in neighbourhoods and areas near transit hubs – places where higher density makes the most sense.

After hearing your concerns, I tabled a motion to explore a new set of rules – a “missing middle overlay” – for pre-war communities near transit and employment nodes and along major corridors. These would be neighbourhoods with some deteriorating housing stock, and where height may be less of a concern because of older taller homes, areas that would benefit from reducing the restrictions on ground-oriented multi-family housing. I’ll have more to say on this in the coming months, but the important point here is that we cannot slow down on our efforts to make the infill experience better for everyone. We started with construction practices, but our work is only just beginning.
Single-family houses make up almost 60% of Edmonton homes
Standalone houses dominate Edmonton’s housing stock and it doesn’t look like that’s changing anytime soon.

According to Statistics Canada, single-detached homes accounted for 57.3 per cent of Edmonton’s total occupied dwellings in 2016, which excludes temporary residences (including those occupied by post-secondary students and foreign residents). That’s higher than the national average of 53.6 per cent.

Compare that to the percentage of single-detached houses for Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver at 39.6 per cent, 32.7 per cent and 29.4 per cent respectively.

Edmonton and Calgary bucking the trend with high demand for detached homes
If the benchmark of home ownership success is not sharing any walls with your neighbours, then new numbers show Edmonton residents are doing quite well for themselves.

Statistics Canada housing numbers released Tuesday show Edmonton and Calgary, which are among the fastest-growing municipalities in Canada, heavily favour detached houses.

In Edmonton, detached houses account for 57.3 per cent of homes. In Calgary, they are 58.3 per cent. Those are considerably higher percentages than some of Canada’s other major urban centres.

Fewer than half of dwellings in Vancouver, Montreal, Victoria, Toronto and Quebec City are detached homes. In those cities, low- and high-rise apartments or condos, row houses and apartments in duplexes make up the majority of living spaces.
Edmonton branching out to protection of city trees
New rules are in the works to give the city more “teeth” when it comes to protecting Edmonton’s trees.

City officials say parts of our urban forest continue to be uprooted by contractors developing new homes in older neighbourhoods.

“We’re seeing more damage,” said Bonnie Femanuik, a senior urban forester with the city. “There are a lot more inquiries from citizens, and they’re becoming more vocal.”

City councillors recently tasked city officials with enhancing a bylaw by requiring construction crews to protect city trees, which line neighbourhood streets.

Officials have been pushing for tougher rules partly because Edmonton has seen an increase in what’s known as infill development. Infill is when construction crews tear down old bungalows in older neighbourhoods and replace them with new skinny homes, apartments or duplexes.

“Infill development has been a really big trigger for tree protection,” Femaniuk said. “So we’re dealing with all these concerns.”

Currently, the city can’t hammer contractors with fines for not protecting city trees. That’s because the current bylaw doesn’t clearly state that trees must be fenced, or that the ground be covered with material that prevents large trucks from driving into the soil, ultimately destroying the root system.
Edmonton ponders 'missing middle' infill in older neighbourhoods
There is a demand for middle-density infill housing in Edmonton but the city needs to figure out how best to do it, says Mayor Don Iveson.

"I think we have to come up with a zoning package that is straightforward for [developers] to use," Iveson said Wednesday.

City council's urban planning committee received an update on the work city staff are doing to address what's described as the "missing middle" when it comes to infill.

The segment includes triplexes, low-rise apartment buildings and multi-family housing with a shared yard space.

Staff told councillors Wednesday that 66 per cent of Edmonton households can't afford the average priced home in older neighbourhoods, which is about $360,000.


This is a rendering of a five-plex proposed to be built in Queen Mary Park that has come up against numerous roadblocks, said Mick Graham with IDEA. (Mick Graham)

Most of the infill being built now in those neighbourhoods can cost just as much or even double that.

To create some of this "missing middle" infill under current zoning bylaws is very difficult, Mick Graham, builder and president of Infill Development in Edmonton Association (IDEA) told the committee.

"If we're ever going to get away from the sprawl that we seem to be continuously building, we've got to make the economics make sense for people to be able to move into the mature neighbourhoods," Graham said.

City of Edmonton moving forward on 'missing middle' infill development
The city will keep pushing forward on medium-density infill as it works to temper concerns from residents.

Council’s urban planning committee received a report on “the missing middle” for information Wednesday, moving one step closer to new zoning and regulations that could make way for more multi-family housing forms.

“Under the zoning regulations that we’re working with today, it’s very, very difficult,” said Mick Graham, president of the Infill Development in Edmonton Association.

Graham is hoping to give mature neighbourhoods more variety like the suburbs, where single-family, duplex, row housing and low-rise apartments often exist side by side.

He says Edmonton's suburban neighbourhoods have about 45 building units per hectare, versus 12 in mature neighbourhoods.

Graham said demand for the missing middle is growing, as Edmonton becomes a “really interesting cosmopolitan city” with more diverse business interests than Calgary.

“I think the demand for something other than a single-family house with a yard is there, and it hasn’t been satisfied,” he said.

Councillors said they’ve heard numerous concerns from residents about infill, particularly with “tall skinny homes” going up next to single-family detached houses.
Developer tells Edmonton council why infill is so expensive
The city needs to target specific neighbourhoods that stand to benefit more from infill housing to increase density, instead of trying to make it work city-wide. That’s what council’s urban planning committee decided after reviewing an interim report that pointed out shortcomings to the system.

Those problems include how 88 per cent of infill projects require the developer to seek a “‘variance” from the city to get approval for the project.
Developer Mick Graham, of the Infill Development Association of Edmonton (IDEA), told the committee how building a duplex on the outskirts in a greenfield would cost $191,000 less than in a mature neighbourhood. He presented a week-by-week comparison that detailed how bureaucratic delays begin to pile up interest costs, on top of the already more expensive land closer to downtown.

“The cost per lot in greenfield is $75,000 less,” he said. “To go along with that, there’s the expenses associated with a very slow permitting process that we have to endure. It’s a week or so for the greenfield builders, and at present it’s 74 business days – 15 weeks – to get a permit for an infill build.”

“At week 27 I’m done building the greenfield houses. A week later, I actually get my permits to start building my infill houses.”
Edmonton must change rules to allow needed redevelopment of mature neighbourhoods: planner

Making it easier to build homes on small lots is one way to help increase Edmonton's affordable housing, planner Simon O'Byrne says.

The city needs to allow a wider variety of housing in mature areas so the population and amenities in these communities don’t stagnate, an Edmonton urban planner said Wednesday.

Too many neighbourhoods contain almost exclusively traditional single-family houses when they should also offer skinny homes, places where several generations can live together, and condos for empty-nesters, said Simon O’Byrne, Stantec’s vice-president of community development.

He suggested city officials update zoning laws to make it easier to create small lots, secondary and garage suites, corner duplexes and buildings up to about 12 storeys high along major thoroughfares.

This would increase the city’s stock of affordable housing, he said after a lunch speech to the Edmonton chapter of NAIOP, an international commercial real estate development association.

“To have complete communities, we need to have a wide variety of neighbourhoods,” O’Byrne said.

“Developers are kind of leading the (charge) on some of this … It’s not that they don’t want to build single-family housing anymore. They just know that a shrinking percentage of consumers can afford to buy it.”


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Industry experts question council's focus on LRT-related infill
Edmonton’s best opportunity to create new walkable, mixed-use districts isn’t around LRT stations, but around malls, according to an industry report.

Intelligence House and Colliers International identified six malls that have spent the most money upgrading since 2009: Londonderry, Kingsway, Southgate, Northgate/North Town, Capilano and Westmount. The report was commissioned by the City of Edmonton and released in December.

Of course, an existing mall on a new LRT line is the very best opportunity, said the authors. But a site with a grocery store, movie theatre and other commercial amenities with a good road connection and a bus terminal has greater appeal than an LRT station without shopping, they wrote.

“You live, work and play. It’s all there,” Kevin Petterson, senior vice-president for Colliers International and co-author of the report, said Wednesday.

“Let’s capitalize on infrastructure we’ve already got,” he said, suggesting the same re-zoning and other incentives council is looking at around LRT stations should be applied to malls. New towers can go on the mall site, with new zoning for medium density in the immediate area.


Malls with the most development permits since 2009. Other malls are in the planning stages for major redevelopment efforts. COLLIERS INTERNATIONAL, INTELLIGENCE HOUSE
Mall owners know the market is changing. Many are already trying to find ways to incorporate local boutique stores, add residential towers and open them up to the community, he said. There are ways to address the unfriendliness of major roads and massive parking lots.

“We’re talking about long-term vision,” he said. “That’s the way our city should be growing.”

In some ways, the observation turns council’s planning work on its head. With the LRT, Blatchford redevelopment and the Coliseum lands, much of the focus has been on how to create mixed-use, higher-density communities where little exists.

This recommendation calls for council to encourage more development where it’s already happening.
@Daveography ^, excellent, it will be interesting to see what the affordable housing plan looks like, nimby backlash.

^^, After a quick read of this report I would have to agree with their outcome. I hope the COE will promote increased zoning at established infrastructure nodes & not only LRT sites such as BD Mall, MWTC, or Century Park. Further, will Blatchford or Northlands be successful or a continued boondoggle that seems to be the COE's process?
As long as the City heeds blind allegiance to an inept Planning staff they are going to continue to go down the wrong road re Blatchford, Northlands, West Rossdale, Jasper Avenue, Alberta Avenue, and... (put in any other name here). On projects where the design or planning is left to competent private firms the results are typically positive.