More than 70 people signed up to speak in Edmonton’s city council chambers Tuesday to talk about the city’s new draft zoning bylaw at an urban planning committee meeting Tuesday.
Some were in support, saying the new bylaw would help with affordability, reducing carbon emissions and creating vibrant neighbourhoods.
Others were against the changes, citing the potential loss of habitat for wildlife, changing the character of neighbourhoods or said that densification doesn’t actually help with affordability.
Some said the city has not been consulting enough about the changes, though the city has been gathering public feedback since 2018.
Kevin Taft is a spokesperson for a group which hired a polling firm to survey Edmontonians on if they knew what changes were coming to the zoning bylaw.
The poll results suggested about two-thirds of people had never heard of the zoning bylaw.
“This is a huge change to the rulebook and what can be built in neighbourhoods and the public needs to know that,” said Taft.
“They need to be engaged and they’re just now coming to consciousness of this,” he said, adding he was happy to see the amount of people who registered to speak.
Taft said the public feedback has not been from a diverse enough group of Edmontonians.
“I don’t think the people, the public understands what’s coming at them.”
David Berry spoke in favour of the changes in the bylaw. Berry is a dad who lives in Westmount and said his neighbourhood has improved as it has densified.
“I think density is really important for addressing climate issues, it’s really important for addressing the economic issues in the city, and ultimately, I think it makes our city a much more livable, enjoyable place to be,” said Berry.
He said more businesses have opened in his neighbourhood because there is more population to support them.
“All those things are because there’s more people around. It’s not towers, it’s not huge apartment complexes,” he said.
“It’s two houses where there was one or it’s four houses where there were two.”
The committee meeting is scheduled to go into the evening Tuesday. Public consultation on the zoning bylaw is open until July 30 on the Engaged Edmonton website. There will also be a public hearing where residents can share their opinions on the bylaw on Oct. 16, 2023.
To summarize the big changes to the zoning bylaw, infill housing — such as skinny houses and small apartment buildings — could be built on any residential lot in the city without the builder needing to go through an approval process with the city.
The revised bylaw will also encourage certain business types, like small restaurants, cafes, child care and retail stores, to be located among houses in neighbourhoods.
“Zoning is the rulebook for what you can build where and what you can you can do in our cities and in our neighbourhoods,” said Ward Metis Coun. Ashley Salvador.
“What we’re doing with the zoning bylaw renewal is revamping that rulebook because the rulebook is really old and it’s really outdated and it’s not reflective of the type of city we want to see today.”
City staff said as the city grows to a population of two million, the city needs to grow up, not out, and existing neighbourhoods will need to accommodate about 50 per cent of new homes.
To help with that, they’re paring down the existing 16 residential zones to just six.
Dense housing could be allowed on any lot in the city, with some zones allowing infill and small apartments and others allowing highrises.
Edmontonians who want to know how their neighbourhood is currently zoned — and how that could change with the new bylaw — can use the city’s Know Your Zone tool.
The city aims for the new bylaw to go into effect in January 2024.
“This is not the end of the conversation. And even if it does go to a public hearing, it is not the end of the conversation after that, because zoning and land use is an iterative, ongoing conversation that we have in the city of Edmonton and future amendments can be made even after it is approved,” said Salvador.