Edmonton revamping zoning bylaw to allow flexible building options

The City of Edmonton is trying to streamline its zoning rules for housing, businesses, industry and open spaces, but the proposed changes are getting some scrutiny from the public. 

City aims to streamline number of zones from 46 to about 20

A rendering of a five-plex in Edmonton. Edmonton's draft zoning renewal includes one small scale residential zone to replace several existing zones, making way for infill in more neighbourhoods. (Mick Graham)

The City of Edmonton is trying to streamline its zoning rules for housing, businesses, industry and open spaces, but the proposed changes are getting some scrutiny from the public.

City managers presented a draft zoning bylaw to council's urban planning committee Tuesday, aimed at replacing the existing bylaw.

Livia Balone, director of zoning bylaw renewal, said the proposed changes will accommodate a wider range of development.

"The zones, uses and regulations in the new zoning bylaw will strive for simplicity and flexibility," Balone said.

The city currently has 46 zones in residential, commercial, industrial, mixed-use and open spaces categories, and the goal is to whittle that down to about 20. 

"Fewer zones will create more clarity," Balone told councillors. "It will allow for a wider variety of housing types and business opportunities in more places."

Many zones in the current bylaw have a lot of overlap, she said, and some impede certain kinds of building.

Neighbourhoods zoned for single-detached dwellings, for example, typically don't allow for other uses like small-scale infill.

Changing to one standard will allow a variety of building types in more areas, Balone said. For example, the city is proposing a new small scale residential zone to replace the current ones. 

"It will reduce the need for rezonings and the associated time and cost for applicants," she added. 

Community leagues want say

Nearly 20 people turned out to the meeting to express some concerns, although most did welcome the city's overall plan to revamp the zoning bylaw. 

Michaela Davis, chair of the planning committee at the Urban Development Institute Edmonton Metro, said the proposed small scale residential zone won't allow them to build as high, as it comes with a consistent height limit of 10 metres. 

Narrow townhomes, an affordable housing option, are normally built under the city's current Direct Control zone, she said.

"These housing types would not be feasible without the greater flexibility in height and width that these approved DC [Direct Control] zones offer," she said. 

Several community league representatives also spoke to the committee.

Beverly Zubot with the Parkallen Community League urged the city to consult leagues as it develops the zoning bylaw. 

Leagues help develop local parks, provide social gatherings and programs, and many of the volunteers are experts in civic subjects — all good reasons to include them in rewriting the zoning bylaw, she said. 

Zubot also suggested the bylaw needs more precision in areas like allowable heights and providing predictability for builders, big and small. 

"Lots of people invest in condo suites, they invest in building garden suites, they make all kinds of investment, the small investor does," she said.

Mark Dunlop, with the Garneau Community League's planning committee, also said the city hasn't engaged or collaborated sufficiently with communities challenged by ongoing development. 

"Garneau is a desired area for living and because of this, a desired area for development," Dunlop said. "It's one of the densest communities in the city."

Dunlop said city council has approved too many small and micro apartments in Garneau in recent years instead of family units.

Coun. Sarah Hamilton said the overhaul aims to give people more flexibility for a variety of uses on a property, like home-based businesses.

"They're looking for that creativity to use what is currently existing to fit how Edmontonians are changing how they use their homes." 

The zoning bylaw renewal is still a draft, so Balone said over the next five months, planners will refine the proposal and report back to council in the fall.


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