On April 26, Urban Planning Committee received an update on the completion of the Infill Roadmap initiative, a multi-year project dating back to 2014 that set the groundwork for us to welcome more people and new homes into Edmonton’s older neighbourhoods.
With the roadmap now concluded, today was an opportunity to look at the successes to date, and the work that is forthcoming. Overall, the roadmap has been a tremendous success in shifting the balance of our city’s development to include more infill. For decades, construction in our region has prioritized greenfield suburban growth, and changing course towards more infill redevelopment has taken commitment, courage, and consistent support from city administration, council, community, and industry.
It was through the Infill Roadmap that Edmonton took a series of important actions towards a more financially and environmentally sustainable city. It helped modernize our approach to zoning, it contributed to the elimination of single-family only zoning and minimum parking requirements, and it helped enable more duplexes, row houses, garden suites, basement suites, missing middle development, and other forms of gentle density. On a personal note, Evolving Infill and the Infill Roadmap was also my first real introduction to civic engagement at the municipal level as a community stakeholder.
The outcomes achieved from the Infill Roadmap have helped moved the dial in Edmonton's transition from a sprawling, predominantly low-density, auto-oriented city towards a more healthy, compact, walkable and urban city. In turn, this has moved us closer to a city that is more climate resilient, more affordable, more equitable, and also importantly more fiscally responsible. We simply cannot afford to continue growing outwards. Our ability to deliver the services that Edmontonians depend on while keeping taxes manageable and competitive depends on continuing to grow up, rather than out.
As the City expanded options for more infill development, that also uncovered a need for process improvements through both permitting, and compliance. Today, Urban Planning Committee also received an update on infill compliance which showed that we are building more infill than ever with fewer complaints.
I was pleased to read that there has been a downward trend in the number of complaints. Peace officers are seeing dramatic reductions in the number of complaints they receive for infill; in 2017, there were 659 complaints, in 2020 there were 386 complaints and in 2021, there were 371 complaints.
The total number of development compliance complaints substantially decreased from 186 in 2018 to 54 in 2019, 32 reported in 2020, and 33 in 2021. That’s evidence of significant improvement, and a reduction in the negative experiences of Edmontonians near infill projects.
That being said, as we increase the amount of infill in our communities, we need to continue making more efficient use of our enforcement resources to ensure we are dealing with problematic builders.
Administration confirmed that the focus for 2022 is on tools and approaches to improve accountability so that infill is being done in a responsible and respectful way that adds to our communities.
While we’ve come to the end of the Infill Roadmap, our efforts to continually make progress towards our infill goals are not at an end. There are three primary bodies of work currently underway that will help transform the way Edmonton grows so that we can realize the goals set out in the City Plan - Zoning Bylaw Renewal, District Planning, and Growth Management Framework.
Zoning Bylaw Renewal
The Zoning Bylaw Renewal Initiative is a multi-year comprehensive overhaul of Edmonton’s current Zoning Bylaw that includes rethinking how, what and why the City regulates in terms of zoning and land development. Simply put, zoning is the rulebook for what we can build where - from parks and different kinds of businesses, to residential uses and industrial areas, zoning is the foundation for how we use land use in cities.
Our current Zoning Bylaw is outdated and complex. It must be modernized and renewed to reflect the changing realities we are facing related to climate change, equity, affordability, and fiscal sustainability.
District Planning is another multi-year project happening alongside Zoning Bylaw Renewal to build the out 15-minute districts as outlined in the City Plan so that people can live locally and meet their needs close to home. You can think of 15-minute districts as small towns in our big city, where people can meet many of their daily needs locally.
The City Plan provides direction for the creation of 15 geographic districts across the City (see below).
Ward Métis will be composed to 2 Districts - 118 Avenue District, and the Southeast District. Maps are provided for each district below.
Edmonton's City Plan provides high level direction and a vision for our growth as we work towards a population of two million. District Planning is one level below that and will provide a more detailed plan of where we expect growth to occur (ex. along primary nodes and corridors/main streets), what that growth might look like in terms of density, where green space and amenities should go, etc.
Here is and example of the Draft Millwoods and Meadows District Plan to show what a District Plan may include.
Growth Management Framework
Growth Management Framework is about activating priority growth areas through various policies, financial tools, and partnerships to achieve the goals of the City Plan. Importantly, it will guide the financing of municipal infrastructure to support growth and density along priority nodes and corridors. We need to make sure our underground utilities can actually support higher levels of density and that we have mechanisms in place to sustainably fund these types of upgrades.
Urban Planning Committee will be receiving an important update on Growth Management Framework on June 14, 2022, including next steps. Watch that meeting here.
Just this past month, several meaningful steps were taken related to the three bodies of work outlined above, including a Zoning Bylaw Renewal Report that provided a first look at proposed zones, an initiative update, and next steps. Council also authorized city administration to begin the important work of preparing district plans.
To underscore the importance and timeliness of this work, I was pleased to put forward two motions that were passed unanimously at Urban Planning Committee:
That a service package to advance rezoning of priority areas to align with Growth Management Framework and District Plans, if approved, be considered as part of the 2023-2026 budget process and brought forward for discussion during the 2023-2026 budget discussion.
That Administration provide a report outlining a potential work plan, including: timing, engagement, resources, and budget on an approach to rezoning priority areas as identified through District Plans and Growth Management, if approved.
The intention of these two motions is to ensure that properties are upzoned in alignment with district planning, so that we actually see the kinds of development we say we want. This will be particularly important along nodes and corridors.
The Path Forward
Zoning, planning, and infrastructure may not necessarily be the most exciting topics for many observers, but these are the nuts and bolts of how we accomplish our larger goals.
Edmonton may seem like an unlikely innovator, but we are truly leading the way when it comes to reforming our urban landscape to rise to the challenges being faced by 21 Century cities.
The work conducted as part of the Infill Roadmap has helped Edmonton earn recognition as a progressive and modern place for planning, and the work underway with Zoning Bylaw Renewal, District Planning and Growth Management is solidifying that reputation.
I look forward to continuing to champion this work alongside my council colleagues.
Written by: Ashley Salvador