Infill communities may hold key in Edmonton's search for housing affordability

By Pepper Rodriguez
February 19, 2024

Mature neighbourhoods closer to the downtown have all the advantages – tons of amenities, better commute times to work or school, lots of entertainment opportunities nearby, and more. The one thing these infill-city communities doesn’t have is affordability. But the City of Edmonton is taking steps to fix that.

As of January 1, 2024, Edmonton is implementing Zoning Bylaw 20001, which sets the stage in increasing affordability in these neighbourhoods. One of the changes the bylaw makes is streamlining residential zones from 16 to six categories.

“This simplification offers greater housing diversity without the need for rezoning, allowing developers to expedite housing projects and reduce associated costs,” says Nicholas Rheubottom,

Executive Director of Infill Development in Edmonton Association (IDEA), and organization advocating for the improvement of these communities around Edmonton’s core.

Rheubottom says these were much needed changes that can work with other affordable housing programs, such as CMHC’s MLI Select financing tool, that can present opportunities for developers to pursue projects like purpose-built rentals and mixed-use developments. He says this goes a long way in “enhancing housing affordability and community amenities that benefit all residents whether they rent or own.”

The new bylaw is part of Edmonton’s Infill Roadmap that supports residential infill in established neighbourhoods to maintain their vitality and make the best use of existing infrastructure.

IDEA is very much supportive of the roadmap, saying this is an important way to help everyone find the right homes in the right communities.

Photo courtesy Alicia Paydli

Improving Edmonton’s infill communities

The massive, contemporary developments of Village at Griesbach and Blatchford are considered infill communities, as are the other more mature communities around the city’s central core – including its downtown, as well as neighbourhoods within the five former municipalities that Edmonton absorbed between 1912 and 1964. Most new traditional infill development these days are centred around Southeast Edmonton in the Strathearn, Holyrood, and Bonnie Doon communities, and also West of Downtown Edmonton, in Westmount, Crestwood, Glenora, and Laurier Heights.

Rheubottom says IDEA plays a pivotal role in advocating for the benefits of living in these mature neighbourhoods.

“Through engagement with community leagues and other organizations, IDEA raises awareness of the unique advantages these areas offer. By hosting events showcasing commercial infill spaces and local vendors, IDEA highlights the vibrancy and appeal of living near the core. The organization’s advocacy efforts, including involvement in zoning bylaw initiatives and district planning, contribute to making mature neighbourhoods more functional, desirable, and affordable for Edmontonians, aligning with the vision of creating 15-minute communities outlined in Edmonton’s City Plan.”

“Our purpose is to drive change toward people-centred communities, and we do so through a committed volunteer board and diverse membership, including builders, developers, consultants and community members,” says Chelsey Jersak, IDEA’s past president and founder and principal of Edmonton-based Situate urban planning firm.

Infill lifestyle

Edmonton’s infill neighbourhoods offer a wealth of amenities that attract residents. These areas boast convenient access to shopping, restaurants, medical services, schools, and recreational facilities. With more developed green spaces and larger tree canopies, mature neighbourhoods provide a picturesque environment.

“Additionally, transit options are superior, with frequent and direct routes catering to a well-connected community,” Rheubottom says. “The densification brought about by infill projects enhances these advantages, facilitating even better access to amenities and promoting healthier lifestyles through increased walkability and cycling opportunities.”

Jersak says people usually attracted to this lifestyle include those looking for a balance between urban living and a residential feel.
“These buyers typically value proximity to amenities, work, and cultural venues,” she says. “They appreciate having a modern living space in an established neighborhood with mature trees. Walkability, reduced commute times, and a sense of community are also significant attractions.”

The biggest infill developments today are found in the Village of Griesbach and Blatchford. Both located close to the downtown, they may not be the traditional infill community the way some people think, but the repurposing of the land - the former used to be a military base and the latter was the city’s first airport – follow the tenets of sustainability and Edmonton’s vision

Planning to build in an infill community

Rheubottom does point to the fact that the cost to build a new infill home comes at a higher price.
“When considering purchasing a home in Edmonton’s infill communities, prospective buyers should be mindful of affordability. Infill properties typically come with a premium price tag of around $125,000 more compared to their suburban counterparts,” he says.

“This higher cost stems from various factors, including the expense of construction, land value, demolition, abatement, and infrastructure upgrades. Moreover, there are invisible costs associated with inefficiencies in approval and inspection processes, which can further inflate the market price of an infill home.”

Situate’s Jersak says it’s important to find and engage with a specialized team when considering building in the core.
“Find a designer and builder that you trust and that has experience with infill builds. If you’re interested in maximizing your redevelopment potential with secondary suites or row housing, consider working upfront with a consultant like Situate, who will help you explore and select the optimal redevelopment option.

She adds that a steady hand in navigating regulations is also essential. “You will need to deal with specific zoning and bylaw considerations. Infill development can be complex, requiring a clear understanding of the rules.”

Also keeping communication lines open with neighbours. “Be prepared to talk to the community. Successful infill projects involve communication with neighbors and community leagues to ensure that they know what’s going on,” Jersak says.

About Pepper Rodriguez

Pepper Rodriguez is a writer, editor of New Home + Condo Guide's Calgary and Edmonton editions.

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