Infill development moves forward in Edmonton
February 04, 2021
Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword in Edmonton these days. It has certainly become a way of life, and even more importantly, a where to live.
Edmonton is serious about planning much of its future growth along established neighbourhoods and repurposed land or brownfield developments, a City plan is calling for 50 percent of new housing to be infill within existing neighbourhoods.
The massive redevelopment projects of Village at Griesbach and Blatchford may not be infill projects in the truest sense, 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 for a revitalized urban core.
The burgeoning infill industry itself is enjoying tremendous growth as more homebuyers are enticed by the lifestyle – of shorter commutes to work, established and plentiful amenities, and even the presence of mature trees.
Edmonton’s Infill Roadmap notes that supporting residential infill in established neighbourhoods is an important way to help everyone find the right homes in the right communities. It further states that supporting infill is also an important way to sustain established neighbourhoods maintain their vitality and make the best use of existing infrastructure.
Helping fulfill this vision is the Infill Development in Edmonton Association (IDEA), which provides the voice of the city’s infill development industry. “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 vice-president and founder and principal of Situate, a boutique urban strategy firm based in Edmonton.
What’s an infill?
“We commonly refer to ‘an infill’ as a skinny house, but ‘infill’ is actually a much broader term than most people realize. It refers to the creative reuse or transformation of land and buildings in existing parts of the city, and it can look like all kinds of things: new single detached houses, row houses, and apartment buildings in existing areas of the city are all forms of infill,” Jersak says.
Mick Graham is a past president of IDEA and has had a vast and varied experience in the industry. He started Singletree Builders in 2012 because he realized that many of Edmonton’s mature neighbourhoods needed rejuvenation and continues to take an active role in the shaping of these communities.
“Most people choose to live in infills because of the amenities that mature neighbourhoods offer. For example, established schools, parks and community leagues, ready access to public transit, a short commute to downtown, and close proximity to the ravine and river valley park system,” he tells Edmonton New Home + Condo Guide.
Cost is one of the biggest hurdles to infill growth, as new homes in the suburbs are invariably less expensive than building closer to downtown.
“If you compared the cost of a house in a new subdivision to an identical house in a mature neighbourhood, the infill house would cost between $100,000 and $125,000 more,” Graham says. “Most of the difference is due to the cost of the land but other factors include the cost of asbestos removal and demolition of the existing house, the cost of a new water and sewer service in the case of a lot split.”
Jersak says one of the solutions could be to increase density. “It’s actually really important for infill to become more affordable and more accessible for more people. This can be achieved in part by building multiple units on lots where, in the past, we would have seen just one house. There are interesting row housing and stacked row housing concepts that can work well for this purpose.”
Challenges to growth
Jersak and Graham say IDEA is calling on the City to remove barriers to infill housing to bring down prices.
“The City needs to change its land use bylaws to encourage more infill,” Graham says. There are huge hurdles to overcome – including inherent NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) where people who have lived in the older neighbourhoods for a long time are understandably resistant to change.
“It’s normal for people to become attached to where they live. One of the things IDEA is trying to do is to encourage conversations about how these kinds of changes can have a positive impact on a neighbourhood,” Graham says.
There is a definite need to update the homes in the downtown core says Urbis Infill’s Mike Arndt.
“With a majority of our housing stock in mature neighbourhoods needing major renovations or to be replaced altogether, coupled with the fact that our demographics have shifted drastically with families and households that come in all shapes and sizes, we need the real estate industry to respond to the needs and wants of people today,” he says. “For example, homes with open concept, lots of natural light, high ceilings and zero asbestos are items on most Edmontonians’ wish lists today that are not represented in our existing housing stock.”
Tom Keogh of Urban Sky Developments, an infill home designer and builder, has always thought that rejuvenating the established neighbourhoods with new infill housing was a great idea as it comes with a ready-made village feel.
“You get an instant urban community and lifestyle. Buyers get the opportunity to identify an urban community that has the right ‘vibe & look’, almost like a ‘small town’ feel that gives a real sense of belonging,” he says. “It also gives you a feeling that “I can make a difference” in your closer-knit community, with your neighbours, community Council, landscaping, volunteering, etc.”
For those looking to live the infill lifestyle in a more affordable manner, they can check out a couple of newer brownfield redevelopments closer to the urban core – Blatchford and Village at Griesbach.
Village at Griesbach is a major redevelopment effort going on close to downtown, converting what was then the CFB Edmonton (Canadian Forces Base). Developed by the Canada Lands Company (CLC), the “Village” is ideally located 12 minutes from city centre at the intersection of 97 Street and 137 Avenue.
Its innovative “urban village” design is one of the world’s best examples of this development concept which places the health and happiness of people over the transportation efficiency of automobiles.
The “Village” features greater Edmonton’s finest collection of beautiful new homes, plus an incredible array of passive and recreational amenities. It is greater Edmonton’s only neighbourhood to receive four Awards of Excellence for Best Development in just six years.
“Developing on a former military base ensures that the legacy of the military base remains intact, recognized, and honoured, while still bringing urbanization to the community that supports the economy in the area,” says Georgette L’Hirondelle, Marketing Manager, Real Estate, at CLC.
The “Village” fits in with Edmonton’s infill goals, too, she adds. “Infill is sustainable both environmentally and socially, and it helps create a bustling and vibrant community. It is so important to commemorate the naming of the streets from the rich history of the Village’s site and to leave this legacy for many generations to come.”
The “Village” offers both multi-family and single-family homes, they range from the mid $200’s for condominiums to the mid $300’s for single-family townhomes, and up to over $800’s for a single-family attached garage and detached garage homes.
“People buy in Griesbach for the neighbourhood, the sense of community, the many parks and amenities, and the proximity to the downtown core,” L’Hirondelle says. “Village at Griesbach is known for its’ architectural styles, which create the physical environment in which people live.
New development close to downtown
Blatchford sits on 536 acres of prime land in the heart of Edmonton. It used to be the site of the province’s first airport and is now being redeveloped into a modern community for 30,000 residents based on a sustainable lifestyle.
Blatchford will be made up of two primarily residential spaces on the east and west side of the site, along with a town centre that will be packed full of life, an 80-acre central park, plenty of additional green space and a civic plaza. With all your daily needs in easy reach, Blatchford will almost be a city within a city.
“Blatchford combines the best of urban living with local neighbourhood charm,” says Tom Lumsden, Blatchford’s development manager. “This master planned community will connect homes with shops, great parks, walkable streets and community amenities. By combining the best of ‘people-first’ design principles with leading sustainability practices, Blatchford will offer home buyers a truly unique lifestyle experience not available anywhere else in our city.”
Like IDEA, Lumsden believes the development and redevelopment of new and existing neighbourhoods is critical for the continued growth of the city.
“It will be a critical part of how we accommodate future growth and contribute to a healthy, urban, and climate resilient city that supports a prosperous region. Infill ensures all neighbourhoods have a range of housing choices, it supports an increasing number of people wanting to live in our core neighbourhoods and it maximizes the use of existing infrastructure,” he says.
In fact, he says the City’s density and infill goals go hand-in-hand with Blatchford. “A project like Blatchford is key to realizing our vision for Edmonton’s future as captured in The City Plan: Planning for our future, creating a vibrant city, caring for the environment and providing Edmontonians with a great quality of life.”
Blatchford offers a wide range of multi-family homes and Lumsden says they start selling in the $525,000 range.
“This is a similar price to new homes in the neighboring communities. As the community develops and more product type is brought to market by our builders, we anticipate seeing a wider range of prices in the neighbourhood.”
One of those builders is Ocheller by RedBrick which offers the Nest8 townhomes. “We have believed in Blatchford since day one and the vision for a sustainable community in the heart of Edmonton. We believe that this is an incredible opportunity to build housing that will change the Canadian housing industry and transform Edmontonian’s views of what their housing should be,” says RedBrick’s Tegan Martin-Drysdale.
She adds that buyers can take comfort that they are contributing to the building of a more sustainable city. “All our townhomes come with options for secondary suites,” she adds.
Whether in the traditional infill sense or whether as a brownfield redevelopment like Blatchford and Village at Griesbach, there is much more to look forward to in Edmonton’s infill plans. And the future does look bright, but more work needs to be done, Jersak says.
“Basically, more people need to want to live close to each other and close to walkable amenities, as to see that as something to aspire to. More people need to ask for it, too: ask the City, ask builders, developers, realtors. Collectively we can make it a reality,” she says.
About Pepper Rodriguez
Pepper Rodriguez is a writer, editor of New Home + Condo Guide's Calgary and Edmonton editions.