New Edmonton bylaw intended to guard against concrete yards

Edmonton city council has passed a new bylaw that is a small step towards ensuring neighbourhoods don't become concrete jungles.

City council passed a new bylaw Thursday that limits the amount of non-permeable materials allowed

An example of multi-family housing in the Bonnie Doon neighbourhood that has no grass in the back yard. (Jan Hardstaff)

Edmonton city council passed a new bylaw Thursday that may help ensure that neighbourhoods don't become concrete jungles.

After a public hearing at city hall, councillors voted in favour of a new bylaw that limits the amount of non-permeable material, including concrete, homeowners can have on their properties.

Under the new bylaw, non-permeable material will be limited to 70 per cent of the property for single homes, semi-detached homes and row houses with lanes. Row houses without lanes will be limited to 75 per cent.

"Your house and your garage and your driveway — sidewalks and all of those things — can cover a maximum of 75 per cent of your property," said Coun. Ben Henderson. "The [rest], water has to be able to drain through."

The problem has increasingly cropped up in Ward 4, said Coun. Ed Gibbons.

"It's an ongoing fight, the amount of people that want to pave over their whole front lawn," he said. "The neighbours start complaining down the block, and our bylaw people only have a certain amount that they can do."

Before the change, the maximum width allowed for a driveway width was 3.1 metres, multiplied by the number of parking spaces in the garage or parking area. The new bylaw widens the allowable driveway space to 3.7 metres for each individual parking space. The bylaw now limits the overall width of the driveway to the size of the garage or parking area.

In the case of a two-car garage wider than 7.4 metres, the smaller driveway width would apply.

Artificial turf has been showing up in some neighbourhoods, where some people have small, shaded areas in their yards, said Coun. Michael Oshry, 

While artificial turf is permeable, it does not absorb water, Parkallen resident Jan Hardstaff told councillors.
"I think it sets the bar too low and doesn't achieve the long-term goals and strategies the city of Edmonton has," said Parkallen resident Jan Hardstaff. (Lydia Neufeld)

"There are all kinds of native grasses and ground covers that can be put down that will absorb water," said Hardstaff. "They should not be using artificial turf. That's for mini golf."

Artificial turf in both front and back yards has been seen in some new infill developments.

Without the bylaw, people could pave their entire property and the city could do nothing about it, Henderson said. 

The new regulations aren't as restrictive as Henderson would like.

"It's esthetics, it's drainage," he said. "I think there's all sorts of implications to it. If we pave our entire city we're going to have real problems, because the water has to go somewhere."

In yards with hard surfaces, rain and snow melt can't be absorbed into the ground and the water ends up running off and into the city's storm-water system, said Hardstaff.

Eventually that water ends up in the North Saskatchewan River, along with fertilizers and other materials that would be partly filtered out by plants and grasses in a yard, she said.

More to come

"While something is better than nothing," Hardstaff said of the new bylaw, "I think it sets the bar too low and doesn't achieve the long-term goals and strategies the city of Edmonton has."

Following the vote, Henderson introduced a motion asking for a report from city staff on what other measures to add to the bylaw.

The motion passed. It could take up to a year for that report to come before council.
A newer home in Parkallen with no grass or landscaping in the front yard. (Jan Hardstaff)