The following open letter is in response to Gary Lamphier’s August 15th article in the Edmonton Journal, entitled “NIMBY Neighbors Aid Urban Sprawl. As Glenwood’s City Liaison Director, I feel it necessary to provide a community’s point-of-view and a specific example of opposition to one of the infill projects alluded to in the article.
In response to Gary Lamphier’s August 15th editorial on neighborhood infill, for those of us who choose to volunteer our time to represent our communities, we have no staff to assist us in research, no representatives to send to city hall on our behalf, no editorial writers to applaud our efforts. On our own time and our own dime we attend public hearings and meetings at city hall, and research the plethora of zoning regulations, development plans, neighborhood overlays. We meet with neighbors, and at times even put ourselves at risk keeping tabs on everything from derelict property to slumlords.
When we choose to take time out of our daily lives to oppose a higher-density development, it is not a decision made lightly, but after much research and consultation with neighboring residents. At a time when the city is pushing strongly for high-density infill, we are trying to balance this with, in the case of many mature neighborhoods, a high ratio of rental units compared to owner occupied ones, deteriorating infrastructure, concerned local citizens, and intertwined social and economic issues. Of course we want infill, new developments and new infrastructure. However mature neighborhoods are not the suburbs. We enjoy larger yards, mature trees, houses whose roofs are not inches apart, and streets wide enough that with cars parked on either side even the largest emergency vehicles can easily maneuverer through. Where many in planning and development circles might look at this from a distance as a side effect of unacceptably low-density development and age, to those of us who have chosen to make these communities our home they are both the charms and advantages of living in a mature neighborhood, to the extent we are often willing to overlook higher crime rates and troubling social issues that are often out of sight and out of mind in the suburbs. Of course we want newer developments to move in and replace the derelict properties, drug houses, and rundown walkup apartments that plague our neighborhoods. However for long-time residents and community representatives, it is important that new developments respect the guidelines of the mature neighborhood overlay, and decades of established architecture. For a community to prosper, developments need to be attractive to both new home owners and longtime residents. Is it homeowners or renters and income property owners who are going to want a duplex with little parking, yard space, and amenities? How is the ill will in a community, caused by a high-density development that potentially leaves neighboring properties in its shade as in the case below, going to create a “rich, vibrant community”?
Sadly, it’s not uncommon for a developer to win public support with photos and renderings of the “proposed development” and then proceed to erect a structure that looks nothing like it. It’s not uncommon for a developer to win public support promising a specific use of the property (of the many given to them by Edmonton’s ‘generous’ zoning bylaws) or by promising that the dwellings will be owner occupied, all the while knowing they will never be bound by this and unfortunately in many cases having no intention of living up to these promises. When this happens, we bite our tongues, knowing we have no recourse.
No community wants derelict property, which inevitably ends up being used by area homeless and transients. However, far from being the white knight coming to “enhance the vitality” of a community, we have seen on occasion, developers contribute to the deterioration of a neighborhood by purchasing property and leaving it derelict until they get it rezoned, and/or receive whatever development permits they’re seeking.
There are developers who, in our community, have built beautiful higher density homes. However, in contrast to those, there is often a developer who eagerly wants to build bigger than his lot, higher than his neighbors, and in some cases is more than willing to mislead the community to get through the steps leading up to construction. It’s for those that the community needs the appeals process. Yes, people like Mr. Chopra lose money in the process, but if a home is indeed the biggest investment a person ever makes, then how can anyone paint neighboring residents that have made that investment, with the NIMBY brush and sweeping generalizations, as if they have nothing at stake. Let’s not forget that at least one planning study in Edmonton is the result of “redevelopment pressure” and a flood of multi-unit housing developments in the past.
Where Mr. Lamphier chooses generalizations, I choose specific examples. In this case the “Build to Last” July 17th 2009 appearance before the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board;
July 17, 2009
Mr. Chopra and Build to Last were challenged by the Parkdale/Cromdale Community League. The Community League argued;
The subject site is zoned for two dwellings but the current proposed development would be for three dwellings. The completed structure would result in site coverage of over 41 percent.
Given the size of the building, there will be no amenity area in the rear, only space for parking.
The neighbour immediately north of the subject site will be completely shadowed by the proposed three-storey building. Any sunlight in the winter months would be completely blocked.
The neighbour immediately south of the subject site has privacy concerns due to the size of the structure and placement of windows.
The requirement is for nine parking stalls but only seven parking stalls are provided on site.
The neighbourhood does not have an issue with the development of a duplex on the subject site but they are not in favour of stacked row housing.
The subject site is too small for such a large structure given it is an interior lot, there are substantial variances required, and it will not blend into the neighbourhood.
Several neighboring residents also provided arguments against the proposed development.
Mr. Chopra and Build to Last responded with;
The subject site is currently zoned RA7 and Stacked Row Housing is a Permitted Use. The Respondent purchased the subject site one year ago.
There are adequate side yards to both the north and south.
The potential for shadowing on the lots to the north and south is not a valid argument as the proposed development is not over the total allowable site coverage.
The City’s intention is to have high density developments along the LRT right-of-way.
The City specifically changed the zoning to high density and encouraged new development.
Maps were produced showing the high density zones along the LRT together with maps showing zoning to RA9 to allow high rise developments along 118 Avenue.
The subject site is across from a school so the proposed development will encourage young families to move into the neighbourhood.
As to the lack of amenity space, children can play in the school yard.
Articles from the Edmonton Journal showing the City encouraging infill developments together with a copy of the City Infill Guidelines dated May 9, 2009 were submitted as evidence.
The proposed 3-Dwelling Stacked Row Housing project is located on 1 ½ lots.
There are apartments and duplexes already developed in the neighbourhood and they provided photographs evidencing such developments.
Development is good for the neighbourhood and the Respondent had built award winning properties in the neighbourhood. The company has also built approximately 53 other developments, most of which are infill housing. All lots are different, some may require variances and others may not.
In this case the board validated a number of the Community’s concerns in refusing the development and ruling;
The proposed Stacked Row Housing on a site of 1.4 hectares or less, which does not isolate another Site within this Zone of less than 800 square metres is a Permitted Use in the RA7 Zone.
The proposed development is a Stacked Row House with two units facing the roadway and one unit behind.
The units in the proposed development meet the definition of family-oriented dwelling units as set out in the Edmonton Zoning Bylaw.
Policy 3.2, Residential Land Use Policy of the Parkdale Area Redevelopment Plan states that “…family oriented units at grade with individually identifiable entrances are appropriate for properties fronting onto local roadways…”. The third unit at the rear of the proposed development opens into the side yard and not onto a roadway and, as such, does not fit the policy.
The Site Width is only 15.09 metres versus the requirement of 20 metres and the minimum Site Area required is 800 square metres while the proposed Site Area is 551.84 square metres. Although it may be City policy to encourage higher density developments along transit routes, the subject lot is substantially smaller and narrower than what is anticipated in a Stacked Row Housing development.
The Community League has a valid concern with the minimum amenity area for the proposed development. If the intent of the developer is to develop sites for young families and because of the parking requirement at the rear there is no amenity area for families. The minimum amenity area under the Edmonton Zoning Bylaw is 22.5 square metres, only 15.09 square metres is provided on the subject site.
In the Parkdale Area Redevelopment Plan, under the RA7, Low Rise Apartment (Overlay Area), the Board notes that the guidelines to the Development Officer is that the minimum Private Outdoor Amenity Area should be 30 square metres per Family Oriented Dwelling. So the proposed development would require 90 square metres while only 15.09 square metres is available.
The Board does not accept the Respondent’s argument that children can play across the street in the school playground since it is located at the rear of the school so parents cannot supervise or see the children from the proposed development.
The Board notes that they are in receipt of two petitions, one in support and one in opposition and equal weight was given to them.
Based on the above, the proposed development would unduly interfere with the amenities of the neighbourhood, or would materially interfere with or affect the use, enjoyment or value of neighbouring parcels of land.”