September 6, 2017 6:53 pm
Updated: September 6, 2017 8:28 pm

Developer tells Edmonton council why infill is so expensive

WATCH ABOVE: As the push for infill continues, one of the lessons learned is that development generally isn't cheap. Some new options are on the table to bring more housing variety. Vinesh Pratap explains.

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The city needs to target specific neighbourhoods that stand to benefit more from infill housing to increase density, instead of trying to make it work city-wide. That’s what council’s urban planning committee decided after reviewing an interim report that pointed out shortcomings to the system.

Those problems include how 88 per cent of infill projects require the developer to seek a “‘variance” from the city to get approval for the project.

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Developer Mick Graham, of the Infill Development Association of Edmonton (IDEA), told the committee how building a duplex on the outskirts in a greenfield would cost $191,000 less than in a mature neighbourhood. He presented a week-by-week comparison that detailed how bureaucratic delays begin to pile up interest costs, on top of the already more expensive land closer to downtown.

“The cost per lot in greenfield is $75,000 less,” he said. “To go along with that, there’s the expenses associated with a very slow permitting process that we have to endure. It’s a week or so for the greenfield builders, and at present it’s 74 business days – 15 weeks – to get a permit for an infill build.”

“At week 27 I’m done building the greenfield houses. A week later, I actually get my permits to start building my infill houses.”

READ MORE: Two-thirds of Edmontonians can’t afford today’s housing prices

He also pointed out how both homes in the greenfield duplex would have services, while in the infill – where two homes are going where one was before – means Epcor has to be brought in to finish that job.

“Only one of the infill lots is serviced so I get to pay Epcor $19,800 to provide the service to my lot.”

He said that’s nearly 10 times as much as what would be charged for the greenfield property.

Mayor Don Iveson told reporters city staff will take Wednesday’s information to help them work on what they call “Infill 2.0,” which is an attempt to encourage developers to build more medium-density projects along transit corridors, employment nodes and other centres where it’s expected a lot of people with gather.

“We’ve heard loud and clear we need to get a little more granular,” Iveson said. “We need to come down to the street level almost or at least the neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood level and have some of those conversations.”

Iveson said infill is gaining traction and that people are asking for it. But so far, how it’s been done has brought problems.

“I think people are on board for that. It’s just becomes difficult when it actually comes to your neighbourhood. That’s why we’ll have to become cautious about zoning changes that we do make that enable more development activity. We’re going to have to do that with community, and not to community. So that may take time to do properly.”

READ MORE: Massive two-lot infill home in south Edmonton ‘an anomaly’

Councillor Michael Walters said he still hears about “Darth Vader” type homes that overshadow older neighbourhoods, and steps should be taken to have them fit into the character of what is already there.

“It shouldn’t take any more time to design a home that fits into a neighbourhood than it does to design a home that doesn’t fit into a neighbourhood, if the rules are clear. What we need to do is work on regulations and guidelines that are clear for builders.”

Councillor Scott McKeen relayed the theme he’s heard over and over in his ward that’s popular for infill projects in some neighbourhoods, but not others.

“We completely agree with your infill strategy. I think we have to deal with this for environmental reasons, small reasons, etc., etc. But in this location, it doesn’t work. We’re not NIMBY. But in this location, it doesn’t work.”

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