Edmonton looking at tools to deter, punish problem infill builders

The City of Edmonton will look at ways to make sure infill developments are done with minimal damage to surrounding properties, council’s urban planning committee agreed Tuesday. 

Almost 80% of survey respondents say infill projects damaged or impacted their properties 

The city says overall complaints related to infill went down in 2019 22 per cent from 2018. (CBC)

The City of Edmonton will look at ways to make sure infill developments are done with minimal damage to surrounding properties.

Council's urban planning committee agreed to the motion Tuesday. 

Coun. Ben Henderson expressed frustration that some residents are still victims of bad builders, with projects damaging their fences, landscaping, sidewalks, and interior and exterior of the house. 

The obligation is on the builder to rectify damages but that doesn't always happen, he noted. 

"We've been at this for a decade," Henderson said about infill projects and the need to enforce good building practices. "We've always said we don't have those powers and I think it's pretty clear we do. And I think we have to start using them." 

Historically, the city has left property owners to deal with builders to resolve issues. 

"It's just not fair to expect the neighbour to take responsibility," Henderson said. "Then to say that they have to go to their insurance company or go to a lawyer in order to deal with a problem I think we have the tools to deal with." 

The committee passed a motion to address the challenges. 

It directs city staff to explore the option of adding inspectors to assess excavations. That could mean adjusting the budget in the spring if more positions are added. 

They'll also look at more tools with more teeth to ensure developers comply with building and safety codes. That could include more fines, stop-work orders and beefing up compliance certificates. 

A compliance certificate is a report confirming that all buildings and structures on the property meet zoning bylaw regulations and have the appropriate development permits.

Coun. Bev Esslinger, chair of the committee, said new housing in mature neighbourhoods is a major component to prepare for the growing population. 

"If we're going to build a city for two million people, infill's going to happen in many places, we need to make sure we get it right." 

Stephanie McCabe, deputy manager of urban form and corporate strategic development, said the majority heed the proper channels. 

"We have a number of good builders out there who are following the process." 

McCabe noted that the city would need more resources to inspect all excavations and that could add to the process for builders that are already heeding the regulations. 

Properties damaged

The committee passed the motion after hearing from several members of the Residential Infill Working Group, which did a survey in 2020. 

Results show 79 per cent of respondents — 175 people in 41 mature neighbourhoods — said infill projects damaged or impacted their properties. 

The majority of cases were related to demolition and excavation, the survey shows. 

Those included vibrations to their home, excavated soil or debris spilling onto their property, excavations not being entirely enclosed by secure fencing and excavations on or beyond the property line. 

Diane Dennis, a member of the working group, presented the survey results to the committee Tuesday.

"Only 14 per cent of our survey respondents were satisfied with the resolution of the issues," Dennis said. "Neighbours spent time, money and emotional energy on attempts to fix damage and other problems created by the construction activity."

Bev Zubot, also a member of the working group, urged councillors to reevaluate their enforcement methods. 

"The survey obviously shows that damage to neighbours' property is common, but it doesn't have to be that way," Zubot suggested. "The public needs enforcement to prevent and mitigate excavation failures.

Complaints down

The city also posted its annual infill compliance report for 2019. 

Overall complaints from residents were down 22 per cent. The number went from 1240 in 2018 to 963 in 2019.

Total complaints were registered from residents via 311, transferred from other city departments and from councillors' inquiries. 

Total tickets given in relation to infill were up three per cent. 

The report shows that development compliance officers, development permit inspectors and peace officers gave out 455 tickets for violations on infill properties, up from 442 from 2018. 

Henderson and the committee asked for results from the motion by early next year.

"We have to step up," Henderson said. "This has been the problem all the way along. We are going to lose the big picture game because we're unprepared to make the bad players play well."



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