Edmonton

Stricter infill rules coming to Edmonton, councillors say

New infill projects in Edmonton may be subject to stricter rules in the coming years after councillors reviewed a recent report showing complaints jumped in 2018 from the previous year.

Citizen complaints about infill went up 51 per cent in 2018

Darren Bonik says an infill development next door has caused problems to his Parkallen home. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

New infill projects in Edmonton may be subject to stricter rules in the coming years after councillors reviewed a recent report showing complaints jumped in 2018 from the previous year.

The report in front of urban planning committee Tuesday shows citizen complaints about infill went up 51 per cent, from 820 cases to 1,240.

Councillors are frustrated that the complaints continue and the infill process doesn't seem to improve for residents.

Coun. Tim Cartmell said the majority of projects are sound but when they're not, "they are catastrophic," for homeowners. 

"The biggest investment they'll ever make in their life is falling apart in front of their eyes — that is catastrophic," he said during the meeting.

He's calling on the city administration to find a way to intercept that before it happens.

"We really need to do that."

Infill headaches

Darren Bonik lives next door to an infill property in Parkallen, where he said the builder started excavating in late March. Bonik believes the side of his house started caving in and the concrete cracked. 

Bonik said the builder had the 'business is business' attitude. 

"They just wanted to get the house built as fast as possible. They assured me no damage, nothing's going to happen."

Darren Bonik is waiting for an assessment of property damage. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

He said he's waiting for an assessment of the damage and to hear from his lawyer on what to do next. 

In the meantime, the builder has continued construction.

Bonik said the city needs tighter regulations and more supervision to make sure builders are doing responsible work. 

The builder in question today goes on the naughty list.- Coun. Michael Walters 

Coun. Michael Walters wants better checks and balances and faster permits for a builder with a proven track record, "who goes through the necessary steps to engage your neighbour and make sure that everything is done to protect your neighbour."

Builders who don't prove themselves would have a slower permitting process to go through.

Michael Walters wants better checks and balances for builders. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

"So the builder in question today goes on the naughty list," he said. "And in order to get another permit in another neighbourhood in another time, they have to do extra things to make sure that project is done to protect the neighbouring properties."

Dennis Peck, government relations manager for the Canadian Home Builders' Association Edmonton region, said reputation is important for builders, but noted that not all infill projects get complaints. 

"As you heard many times here from councillors, most of the projects going through are not an issue," said Peck. "It's unfortunate that they [councillors] didn't have exact numbers in there but you can see it when you go through neighbourhoods.

"There's a lot of infill and you don't hear a lot about the vast majority of it."

The urban planning committee passed a motion Tuesday, asking city administration to propose a streamlined process that will reward the reputable and make problem builders more accountable.

It possibly includes permits specifically for excavation — the main culprit that damaged adjacent properties.

Cartmell hopes the new steps will ensure neighbouring property owners aren't stuck in the middle.

"Find a way to weed out the bad actors and we won't have to add process and cost — that you don't leave someone in a situation where they cannot recover in any easy way."

The city's infill compliance annual report also shows the team issued 110 per cent more written warnings to builders between 2017 and 2018, from 547 to 1,152.

In 2018, 442 tickets were issued for violations found on infill properties, up 25 per cent from the 354 tickets issued in 2017.

Infractions include the builder occupying the right of way on a road, obstructing a highway, nuisance on a property and operating a business without a licence.

Councillors also heard from several residents from the Parkallen community besides Bonik, claiming projects are tearing up properties.

Jan Hardstaff, civics director for the Parkallen community league, urged council to create firmer rules.

"We want infill that's respectful to the neighbour, responsible to the community and being done properly," she said Tuesday. "We need to raise the bar."

Coun. Mike Nickel recommends all homeowners near infill projects take photographs to document the state of their property before and during construction. 

Administration is expected to report back with the details on improving infill to the urban planning committee in early 2020.

@natashariebe

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