Public speaks out about Edmonton’s controversial mature neighbourhoods bylaw

EDMONTON – A plan to change development rules in Edmonton’s mature neighbourhoods continued to divide opinions Monday when it returned to city council.

Council heard from community members Monday night and will meet Tuesday afternoon with city administration before making a decision.

Coun. Bryan Anderson said most of the people who presented to council and answered questions from councillors were against the changes.

“There were seven people in favour and 12 or 13 against,” he said.

Several of the major concerns expressed by those who oppose the plans have been accepted, he said.

The proposed bylaw, which has drawn strong concern from community leagues and other groups since it was released last fall, would permit subdividing 15-metre (50-foot) lots so two houses could be built on the site.

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It would also increase opportunities for putting up duplex and semi-detached homes in single-family zones, and lay out rules for when homebuilders can add suburban-style front garages.

“The communities are looking at tightening the language,” said Byron Kwasnitza, treasurer of the Jasper Park Community League, one of about 20 people scheduled to speak at a public hearing.

“What the communities want more than anything else is clarity … so it’s not open for interpretation, it’s not open for variance.”

They’re concerned the character of older areas could change, making them less attractive to families and leaving too much power in the hands of city staff and the subdivision and development appeal board, Kwasnitza said.

“You want to keep a core stock of single-family houses in order to … attract families and children,” he said.

“Without children, schools die.”

Planner Brian Kropf, who’s working with the Garneau community, said the proposal would allow more duplexes and increase density in the area by at least 200 per cent.

There would also be more traffic congestion and parking on the street, he said.

“It isn’t going to break a neighbourhood’s back, but it will make the quality of it less.”

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The new zoning amendments are meant to implement residential infill guidelines, a document created after at least two years of extensive community consultation.

Contentious changes to the rules on front access and front garages raised alarms when they were proposed last September.

They were later modified to make it clear front access is not allowed where there is an alley and fewer than half the other homes on the block have front access.

Although development officers can grant exceptions after alerting neighbours, the new rules would make it more obvious where front garages should be discouraged.

Architect Ron Wickman, who supports the bylaw, said allowing more locations where multiple-unit buildings can be built and permitting the subdivision of 50-foot lots should keep down the cost of homes in mature neighbourhoods.

This is good news for seniors, people with disabilities and others facing mobility problems, he said.

Another Edmonton architect, Tai Ziola, said there are numerous benefits to increased density, including the possibility of more diverse structures.

“When you start to have more people living in a neighbourhood, it means taxes go further, it means local businesses are more viable, there’s more likelihood schools are going to remain open,” she said.

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“If our mature neighbourhoods aren’t that friendly to families anymore because they’re less affordable, that creates pressure on schools.”

With files from Cailynn Klingbeil 

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