Rebuilding and replacing older homes, especially in the mature neighbourhoods in the Mill Creek area of Ward 11, is a necessary and natural process in the growth of any city. In places like my community of King Edward Park, many of the homes were built over 50 years ago and are nearing the end of their lifespan.
When infill development is done by responsible builders and under the clear guidance of appropriate City planning regulations, it can work well for the community. Unfortunately, there are too many examples of bad infill development and it has become a hot-button issue.
The most common infill complaints that I hear from Ward 11 residents are about when it is done poorly and negatively affects the character of the neighbourhood. Careless developers have damaged neighbouring homes, and City inspectors have limited capacity to enforce bylaw infractions at infill sites due to lack of resources and leadership.
But without infill development, our aging neighbourhoods will languish: young families move to the suburbs, school enrollment drops, a dwindling tax base hurts City services, and Edmonton’s urban sprawl – with all the associated financial, logistical, and environmental problems – gets worse.
Residential growth needs to happen responsibly and collaboratively. Developing mature neighbourhoods with diverse housing options can have many benefits, including:
bringing new amenities to neighbourhoods;
increasing neighbourhood-oriented commercial development;
attracting people at all stages of life to mature neighbourhoods;
alleviating the tax burden on current residents; and
ensuring local schools are well-attended centres for community life.
The evolution of a community should be shaped by people who live there. Edmonton needs a set of community-driven infill standards that include location-appropriate building guidelines, and a willingness from the City to enforce those standards. Already, we are making some progress. Residents in Westmount have come up with development guidelines specific to their heritage neighbourhood in a collaborative process. This is a great example for other neighbourhoods to reflect and retain elements unique to the area, while incorporating new housing types and additional density.
This spring, the City presented the results of its Mature Neighbourhood Overlay Review. On May 29, 2017, City Council approved changes to Mature Neighbourhood Overlay (MNO) Regulations. The regulations will be effective on September 1, 2017. A summary of changes is listed in the MNO Fact Sheet. Despite the City’s traditional engagement approach, I am eager to see how the new regulations unfold. While an Infill Compliance Team has been created to improve construction practices, streamlining the development process with new provincial regulations around a builder registration database would do more to resolve outstanding construction issues. Such an open database system could also be used to track permitting, allowing potential home buyers, homeowners, and developers to track development progress and vet builders for due diligence.
Infill housing is an essential part of rejuvenating our older communities and maintaining vibrant neighbourhoods. My vision for Ward 11 involves creating spaces for new residents in existing neighbourhoods, especially along public transit corridors like the new Valley Line LRT. A healthy, evolving neighbourhood should have room for young professionals, growing families, and long-term residents who want to age in place. I would like to see a mix of housing types and price ranges that will suit Edmontonians from all walks of life.