News / Edmonton

Election Primer: Infill and sprawl top of mind issues for residents

The push for more infill developments in established has received some pushback

Infill development has proven to be a talker this municipal election.

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Infill development has proven to be a talker this municipal election.

Mention infill development in Edmonton and you're likely to get a passionate response--on either side of the debate, and city candidates are equally divided.

The city has set a goal to have 25 per cent of new developments built in established neighbourhoods by 2020. While infill housing is often associated with ‘skinny homes’, it encompasses any new property built on older, existing vacant lots.

Infill development is often criticized for altering the character of establishing neighbourhoods and for being unaffordable.

But infill development and densification are critical to limit urban sprawl, especially with Edmonton experiencing growth of about 20,000 people per year, said Mick Graham, president of the Infill Development in Edmonton Association.

“It makes no sense and it’s not environmentally or economically sustainable to continue to sprawl,” Graham said. “So we’re going to half a million people here in 25 years, that means your cluster of neighbourhoods is going to increase by 50,000 people. So where do you think we should put them?”

But Cassandra Haraba, director of Edmonton-based Citizens for Responsible Development, said the city’s approach to approving infill projects has favoured what developers want rather than the public interest.

“Edmonton’s approach to land use is currently deeply unsatisfactory because the public is being told what is good for it and then having that imposed on them,” she said in a statement.

“Policies are primarily driven by and reflective of commercial interests, not public values.”

She added that even the way infill is approached can cause problems in neighbourhoods, particularly because laws surrounding construction aren’t being enforced. She said unfenced excavations, which cause damage to neighbouring properties is an issue, as is trespassing by construction crews and boulevard and tree damage.

Conrad Nobert, an advocate of “smart growth” who runs a blog called Green Edmonton, said the city has made some good steps in discouraging sprawl, such as approving secondary suites (basement apartments) and reducing the minimum lot width for properties from 33 feet to 25.

But for any meaningful change to occur, the city needs to rezone vast portions of the city to allow for middle-density homes.

“Right now what we’re doing is we’re having most of the city zoned for low density and we’re plunking down these high-rises,” Nobert said. “And of course the neighbourhood never wants it so we’re not really making anyone happy.

“They need to zone larger parts of the city for the missing middle,” he added.

Graham pointed to Richie and Westmount as “good examples” of effective infill development, which he says has the potential to rejuvenate old neighbourhoods.

As for skinny homes? They’re just one piece of the puzzle, but we should probably get used to them.

“They’re just a different style. I think people need to grow up a bit. We’re a big cosmopolitan city and we should expect to see some variety in our built form, as we do in our population.”

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