Edmonton city councillors recommended changes to zoning in mature neighbourhoods Tuesday to allow for more infill development.

That was after hearing from nearly two dozen developers, school trustees and potential homeowners about a report that could dramatically change how and where new homes are built in the city. 

carmen douville

Carmen Douville told councillors that she could never afford to buy a home in the central neighbourhood that she currently lives in. She said she has no desire to move to a 2,000 foot house in the suburbs. (CBC )

The changes, which will come back to council early next year, include revisions to the RF1 (single detached residential) zones to allow for the construction of garage suites and “skinny” homes. Councillors are also considering larger changes to the zoning regime.

The changes are being recommended to increase the number of people who live in the city’s mature neighbourhoods by allowing infill projects like duplexes, triplexes and garden and garage suites.

To make that happen, the 2014 Edmonton Infill Roadmap contains 23 actions, including changes to regulations, zoning and the city’s approval process.

Developer Doug Kelly told council that allowing infill development has huge growth potential.

“There are over 100 mature neighbourhoods as defined by the city,” he said. “This comprises approximately 26,000 acres of land and, in my estimation, about 80,000 unsubdivided 50-foot lots.

“If you were to rezone all the RF1 zones to RF3 (small-scale projects with four dwellings or less) zones in all the mature neighbourhoods at once, you would immediately increase the potential of accommodating at least 250,000 people.”

Changing city, changing housing needs

Changing demographics and growth pressures are behind the city’s desire to create more infill. The goal is to have at least 25 per cent of new growth occur downtown and in mature neighbourhoods, as well as around transit hubs.

People in mature neighbourhoods are getting older. Younger families need to move in to keep schools going, but a lack of affordable housing forces them out to far-flung suburbs, council was told.

Younger people may not want single family homes and seniors may not be able to maintain a house any longer, but  theymay want to stay in the same neighbourhood in a smaller dwelling.

Some may want to have their aging parents living nearby in a garden suite; homeowners may want to convert a garage into a rental unit to help pay the mortgage.

Carmen Douville lives in a central neighbourhood and calls herself a member of Generation Y.  

Douville wants to live in an area close to transit, with services and stores within walking distance. But she told council that the cost of buying a home in that kind of neighbourhood isn't affordable while she is still paying student loans. 

“I have no desire to purchase a 2,000 square foot home in the suburbs,” she said.

What she does want, is an 800 to 1,200 square foot townhouse or multi-unit home that is progressively designed and made with quality materials, she added.

She said that some infill designs she sees are either “cheaped-out, vinyl-clad disasters” or highly designed units that start at $700,000.

“Is it too much to ask for a simple but well-designed, reasonably priced home in a central area?” she asked. “There is a market that is being missed.”

Blanket zoning change proposed

Councillors on the executive committee also received a report about the potential effect of eliminating RF1  zoning in mature neighbourhoods, and replacing it with RF3 zones.

A number of presenters, including Doug Kelly, spoke in favour of this as a way to treat all mature neighbourhoods equally.

“The so-called upper-income areas would be treated the same as the not-so-wealthy areas," Kelly said. "Glenora, Parkview, Laurier would be treated the same as Calder, Denton and Kenora.

“There should be no fear of property values going down. In fact, property values will probably go up.”

Bev Zubot from the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues said that the city should consider creating a non-profit neighbourhood development agency.

The agency could create the type of housing that people want but the market is slow to build, she suggested.

Zubot said that such an organization could be a “game-changer” in the city and put infill on the sites of abandoned strip malls or gas stations.