A small apartment building could soon take the place of any single-family home in Edmonton if plans to rezone the entire city are approved.
City council’s urban planning committee reviewed the first draft of the zoning bylaw rewrite on Tuesday. This is a culmination of years-long efforts to simplify the way land use is regulated in Edmonton by reducing the number of categories, such as consolidating small-scale only residential zones into two categories, and as result allowing bigger and more densely-populated homes than before. City staff are still taking public feedback before the final version is presented to council later next year.
Livia Balone, director of zoning bylaw renewal, said it’s been about 60 years since the zoning bylaw was seriously looked at and it needs some updates. Officials also saw an opportunity to pursue other goals in the City Plan such as creating 15-minute communities and building up density in nodes and corridors — areas that are centres of activity and density.
“We want to have more gentle density in Edmonton. What we’re proposing is in our small-scale residential zones … we are proposing to add a diversity of housing forms — semi-detached, row housing, suites, backyard housing, and small apartments,” she told reporters on Tuesday.
The new residential rules will upzone many properties currently with single-family homes by allowing more density and height with new infill housing than what is currently permitted. Balone contested this qualifies as “upzoning” because zones are combined into equivalent categories, although she conceded this will increase development rights. Upzoning is often defined as increasing allowable density, height, and development rights.
Taller buildings, businesses in residential areas
Edmontonians will be in for some significant, transformational, and permanent changes once the zoning bylaw renewal process is complete.
Over time, lots in neighbourhoods full of detached single-family homes could be replaced by many other housing types up to 10.5 metres tall in the proposed new Small Scale Residential Zone (RS), the option with the lowest density. This is higher than the 10 metres in height suggested in April, and higher than what is currently allowed in some neighbourhoods.
Three-storey apartments, row houses, supportive housing, lodging houses, duplexes, fourplexes, courtyard housing, and tiny homes would all be allowed in the new RS zone. Backyard and garden suites would also be permitted.
For newer neighbourhoods outside Anthony Henday Drive in the Small Scale Flex Residential Zone (RSF), the suggested maximum height is 12 metres.
Home-based businesses, child-care spaces and religious buildings could also pop up in these two zones. Residential lots next to commercial areas could have restaurants, cafes, hair salons or offices without rezoning, although there are some restrictions on noise.
Ward Métis Coun. Ashley Salvador was excited to get a look at the first draft of the updated bylaw, which condenses the current zones and adds “flexibility.”
Opening up lots currently used for single-family homes to build a fourplex is the kind of change with infill development she’s looking to see and which will help achieve goals in the City Plan.
“Those are the types of incremental changes that can actually have a really big impact on our neighbourhoods in creating those more vibrant, inclusive communities we are striving for as a city,” she said.
Asked if this could lead to gentrification, Salvador said the changes open the door to a “diversity of housing choices” such as courtyard housing, tiny homes, and basement and garden suites, which enhances affordability.
City staff and members of the development industry, too, have often equated increasing housing “choice” as improving affordability, but no evidence has been provided as to why this outcome is expected.
Some experts and other researchers have found increasing density does not improve affordability.
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Shock for residents, ‘monster homes’ feared
Jan Hardstaff of the Parkallen Community League said such big changes are going to shock residents when they realize what is happening.
She said the city has been working with the development industry on this for several years but she thinks the average resident is left in the dark.
“They do not see what’s coming,” she said. “I think the people really need to understand what the regulations are being proposed.”
In the new zones, homes will not have to be set back as far from the property lines as before, can be closer together, and can cover more area in some cases. Bigger homes with smaller setbacks could leave little little room for trees and greenery in neighbourhoods, Hardstaff worries.
She also fears this could mean more ‘monster homes’ are built in the city, although consolidating lots is already permitted.
“These would not add any density, they would just create much larger homes. If the objective of the city plan and district planning and the zoning bylaw is to increase density in the city and affordable housing, that doesn’t exactly achieve those objectives,” she said.
Opportunities for public engagement are available on the zoning bylaw renewal website.
Mature neighbourhood overlay retired
The zoning rewrite also proposes scrapping two-decade-old rules meant to preserve the character of older neighbourhoods, called the mature neighbourhood overlay.
This means removing those rules for setbacks, height, and notification requirements for neighbours to “equalize development opportunities” in different areas, replacing them with new ones, according to an overview document by city planners.
However, some aspects were written into the new plans, including facade design, and in many cases not allowing garages in front yards in hopes of preserving sidewalks and tree-lined streets.
For the small-scale residential zones, setbacks from the property lines would be shorter than what may currently exist.
Less notice for neighbours
The public also won’t be as informed about development permits if plans go ahead unchanged.
The draft bylaw would end notifications of permits by mail, instead posting notices on the city’s website and keeping requirements for physical signage on-site.
For rezonings, however, all neighbours within 60 metres would be get a notice in the mail including renters, with some exceptions. There would still be public signage on-site with applicant’s name, contact information, the date of a public hearing.
The bylaw also changes rules for other types of land use including industrial and commercial.