Edmonton should eliminate the RF1 zone to advance infill development

City Council should eliminate the RF1 zone and rezone all of those areas to RF3. Such a move would raise the base zoning for residential neighbourhoods across the city, moving the discussion around accommodating Edmonton’s growth from “how does infill fit in” to “infill is a key part of our entire city’s future, let’s make it work.” Such a decision would make it clear that the entire city needs to evolve together as we grow.

This is not a new idea. It has been proposed before, such as by the Infill Development Edmonton Association. More recently, Councillor Michael Walters has been in the news, making the case for increasing density throughout the city rather than just in specific neighbourhoods:

“We’ve created this sense of entitlement that my neighbourhood is a single-family neighbourhood. No infill should be permitted here,” said Walters. “I don’t think that any neighbourhood is entitled to have low density.”

As long as the majority of our mature neighbourhoods are zoned RF1, we’ll always have an “us vs. them” problem. I mean, just look at what one Kenilworth resident told The Journal:

“Duplexes? No, we don’t want that,” added June Lunn, who moved in five years ago. “Those kind of things are low income. I think older neighbourhoods should just be left how they are. That’s why we live here. If you can’t afford it, go elsewhere,” she added. “I’m not trying to be rude, but we work hard for where we live.”

Entitlement and NIMBYism at its finest. But this isn’t just about building an inclusive city. This is about accommodating the amazing growth Edmonton is experiencing and is projected to continue experiencing. Suburban neighbourhoods alone just aren’t going to cut it. Mayor Iveson wrote about this today:

“We simply can’t continue to build our city and accommodate our growth by developing new neighbourhoods alone. Our suburban neighbourhoods provide great homes, communities and amenities for Edmontonians, but they can’t be the only place where Edmonton’s growth and change occurs. The way we’ll continue to be able to grow a great city in a strong region is by enabling diverse housing options across our entire city. Infill is a crucial piece in building up our established neighbourhoods and further embracing the urban shift that is already underway in Edmonton.”

Infill

The fact is, Edmonton is behind on one of the key goals set forth in The Way We Grow, Edmonton’s municipal development plan. The plan targets that “a minimum of 25 percent of city-wide housing unit growth locate in the Downtown and mature neighbourhoods” and near LRT and transit centres. That’s infill, and while it is happening, it isn’t happening quickly enough. We’re no where close to 25% and without some sort of bold action, we’ll never get there.

As a result, the City has now published its first major report on the topic. Edmonton’s Infill Roadmap is “a two year work plan to advance infill.” Many speakers today described the roadmap as “a good start” and felt it adequately captured the public consultation that went on during its development. But the sentiment was clearly that it doesn’t go far enough.

The roadmap identifies 23 actions, including 8 that the City considers priority actions to begin immediately. “They are key activities that are needed to remove barriers to the development of more new housing and to proactively manage growth,” the roadmap says. The actions are broadly categorized into communication, collaboration, knowledge, rules, and process. As is typical with these kinds of reports, the actions are mostly baby steps, especially those in the rules category.

Action 15 says, “change the RF1 (single detached) zone to allow the subdivision of properties into narrower lots that are half the average width of the other lots on the block (but not less than 25 feet wide).” Action 16 says, “create more opportunities for row housing in the RF3 (small scale infill development) zone by removing location restrictions and changing the site regulations that currently limit this form of infill on RF3 lots.”

Council could just let the roadmap run its course, and maybe learn from that to agree on the next set of actions in two years. And eventually, after many years, we’d have transformed the RF1 zone into something that better enables infill. But I think Council needs to be bolder. The time for baby steps is over.

rf3 zones

There are just 16 neighbourhoods that currently feature predominately RF3 zoning. The vast majority of our neighbourhoods are zoned RF1. But as Administration readily admitted today, RF1 is no longer relevant. It’s just not how we develop neighbourhoods anymore. New areas of the city feature greater diversity than just single detached homes, and have higher density than mature, RF1 neighbourhoods as a result. If the RF1 zone is no longer relevant, then why keep it around?

Moving the baseline to RF3 is not a silver bullet. It also doesn’t mean that every new home built is going to be a townhouse. But it does remove a key barrier to infill, and it does make the desired mix of housing possible. It would allow land prices to stabilize, making infill more affordable.

Ambleside
Medium density housing in Ambleside

Council repeatedly asked the two panels of speakers today for advice on how to get the public onside with more infill and any potential zoning changes. They talked about “social acceptance” and noted they’re the ones that field the angry calls.

Here’s the thing: some people are going to complain no matter what you do. There will always be the June Lunn’s of the world. As was pointed out in response to Council’s questions, waiting to get everyone on board prevents action. You’ll never get everyone on board. It’s important to keep the dialogue ongoing of course, and to give Edmontonians an opportunity to be heard. But that doesn’t mean we have to keep pressing pause. Take action, and clearly inform citizens about why that decision was made and what it means. Council was elected to make the best decisions on behalf of citizens for our city’s future, and if that means infill throughout the city, then let’s get on with it already.

Today, Executive Committee passed a couple of motions to move this work forward. First, they asked for a report “outlining options to overhaul our suite of low density zones (RF1-RF4)” which could include consolidation, changes to the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay, and information about incentives that could be offered to support increased densification. We should hear back on that in January. Second, they voted to allow garage and garden suites and to change RF1 to allow narrower lots not less than 25 feet wide. A public hearing on the changes will take place by January. Furthermore, they asked for an update on progress with the Edmonton Infill Roadmap by March 2015.

That’s all good, and as we head into a very busy capital budget season, it’s probably enough for now. But I’d like to see Council go further when they pick this back up in the new year. Let’s get rid of the RF1 zone, either by rezoning those areas to RF3, or by coming up with a new consolidated zone to achieve our infill objectives. Let’s take a bold step forward.

For more on today’s discussion, check out this post from Elise Stolte.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #123

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for 8/17/2014

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Edmonton Latin Festival
Edmonton Latin Festival, photo by IQRemix

Upcoming Events

2014 FIFA U20 Women's World Cup: Canada vs. Germany
2014 FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup: Canada vs. Germany, photo by Andrew Bates

Can new President & CEO Tim Reid help Northlands find its way?

Northlands announced today that Tim Reid will step into the role of President and CEO effective September 15, 2014. He takes over from CFO and VP of Corporate Services Sharilee Fossum, who stepped into the role in January when Richard Andersen resigned. Tim is coming off a successful stint in Fort McMurray and inherits an organization facing great uncertainty about its future.

Tim Reid

It was just over a year ago that Tim became CEO of the Regional Recreation Corporation of Wood Buffalo (RRC), the organization responsible designing, building, stewarding, and operating “several state-of-the-art community recreation, sport and event facilities and venues” in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Prior to that, he was COO of MacDonald Island Park Corporation, precursor to the RRC. Tim will ease into his new role, remaining with the RRC in a supporting capacity for the next six months. The RRC had five projects in the design or construction phase as of January 2014, with a total budget of more than $360 million, including the $127 million Shell Place, slated to open in January 2015.

Tim takes over at a difficult time for Northlands. The organization seems as uncertain as ever about its future, especially in the face of major changes to its core businesses. Will it be an organization focused on agriculture, one focused on meetings & conventions, or one focused on sports & entertainment? Will it find the courage to narrow its focus, or will Northlands continue to straddle three very different industries?

These questions are all the more pertinent now that momentum is firmly behind Rogers Place, the new downtown arena. Despite repeated statements from Northlands officials over the years suggesting they’ll continue operating Rexall Place as-is, the fact is that losing the Edmonton Oilers will have a significant effect on the financial health of the organization. And no one knows if Edmonton can support two large concert venues.

There’s no question that Tim has had a positive impact on Fort McMurray, but can he find similar success here in Edmonton? Granted he doesn’t start for another month, but Tim’s first interviews with the media don’t provide much confidence.

Tim told Metro today that he understands the need to figure out a future for Rexall Place. “We’re trying to put together the data as we speak, so we know exactly what happens when the Oilers and their properties move to another arena,” he said. However, he went on to say that Northlands needs to “find out what opportunities there are for growth on the agriculture side, on the convention and hosting side.”

The downtown arena wasn’t decided yesterday of course – things have been in motion for quite some time now. Are we really to believe that Northlands is only now running the numbers on Rexall Place without the Oilers? I fully appreciate that Tim hasn’t even started yet, so he probably hasn’t seen all the data. He should have just said so. He told reporters that Northlands need to work with the City, Oilers, and Katz Group, but gave no details.

Edmonton Rexall Place

His second comment about finding other opportunities is potentially more concerning, especially coupled with his stated vision for Northlands:

“We want to be the heart of Edmonton and the place where the community goes to celebrate together.”

As a vision it is certainly concise and inspirational, but it’s also vague and generic. It doesn’t say anything about what Northlands is or does. The organization’s 2013 Annual Report lists agriculture, entertainment, trade shows, concerts, horse racing, casino, and conferences as the businesses that Northlands operates in. Its “looking forward” statement is just as confusing:

“As Northlands moves into 2014, we will continue to provide Edmonton and the Capital Region with the best in events and entertainment. We will capitalize on our role as an urban agricultural society by partnering with like-minded organizations to enhance our already robust local food market. As Edmonton’s destination of choice for entertainment, we will continue to bring some of the world’s best performers to our arena. We will build our visitor base for all of our venues by showcasing Northlands as the destination for entertainment, events and the community.”

Founded as an agricultural society 135 years ago, Northlands has never been willing to fully commit to entertainment, even after bringing in Richard Anderson from San Diego where he was GM of PETCO Park and Executive Vice President of the San Diego Padres. Over the years, members of the board have differed greatly on how much importance Northlands should give to its agricultural initiatives. The organization’s roots might be in agriculture, but it’s sporting that defines Northlands today, at least financially.

Without the $21 million that Northlands received in grant revenue in 2013, it would have run a $19.7 million deficit. Its four main businesses – Northlands Park, Rexall Place, Agriculture and Signature Events, and EXPO Centre – accounted for $136 million in revenue. Of that, Northlands Park (horse racing and casino) accounted for 43% and Rexall Place accounted for 28%.

With declining horse racing revenues and the likely loss of business due to competition with Rogers Place, it’s clear that Northlands needs to make a move. But talk of reinvention is easier said than done. With 19 members on its volunteer board of directors and an 18-person board of governors, Northlands currently has a lot of cooks in the kitchen. Tim certainly has his work cut out for him!

I think it’s great that Northlands was able to find someone relatively close to home to be its new leader. Tim has been in Alberta for years and is already familiar with the political climate here. For all its faults, Northlands remains extremely connected to the community. Last year alone, more than 1,100 volunteers donated more than 21,000 hours of their time and Northlands supported more than 80 charitable organizations, investing “more than $1.25 million in cash and value into the community.” I hope he does find success at Northlands and is able to have a positive impact on our city.

Tim, welcome to Edmonton, good luck, and in true Make Something Edmonton fashion, how can I help?

UPDATE: Here’s a post from McMurray Musings’ Theresa Wells on Tim and his leadership abilities.

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #122

Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for 8/10/2014

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Morning Commute
Morning Commute by Dave Sutherland

Upcoming Events

Animethon 21 XXI
Some of the cosplay at Animethon 21, photo by IQRemix

Upcoming August events to check out!

Aside from eating our fill at the Heritage Festival on Saturday, Sharon and I had a relaxing long weekend up at Goose Lake. With a busy August and September ahead, we figured we had to make the most our down time! Here are some of the events we’re working on for the weeks ahead.

What the Truck?! at Borden Park

Our next big What the Truck?! event will take place on Saturday, August 16 in Borden Park from 4pm to 8pm. We struggled a little this year to find a suitable August location, but eventually settled on the newly renovated park.

Borden Park

Over the last three years the City of Edmonton has invested $9 million in Borden Park, and it shows. New sidewalks, benches, picnic tables, sculptures, and a beautiful reflective round pavilion containing washrooms all help to brighten an already lovely green space.

Borden Park

We think the park is the perfect setting for enjoying some great food trucks! Bring the family and hang out in the green space, at the picnic sites, on the walking trails, and elsewhere throughout the park.

You can check out the lineup of trucks here, and check back again next week for the menus. You can RSVP on Facebook and help us spread the word!

PS. Our biggest event of the year is coming up after this one, and will be on September 12 in Churchill Square. Save the date!

97 Street Night Market

The following weekend is another busy one! On Saturday, August 23 from 6pm to 10pm, come down to Chinatown to take in the second annual 97 Street Night Market. The event will feature food, walking tours, entertainment, and of course, vendors!

East Meets West 2014

The event is being organized by Sharon, Maria, and Roxanne, all of whom had a hand in last year’s 97 Street Night Market that took place in the parking lot behind the old post office (where the Royal Alberta Museum is now under construction). This year the event is taking place along 106 Avenue just west of 97 Street.

97 Street Night Market

I’m helping out with the digital stuff, and will be volunteering on the day. You can check out Sharon’s recap of last year’s event here. Then, RSVP on Facebook and tell your friends!

Blink: the ImMACulate Garden Party

The very next day on August 24, we’re excited to be hosting a garden party at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald from 2pm to 5pm! We have reunited the Blink team (myself, Sharon, Hannah, and Steph) to put together what we think will be a fun event in an underutilized space.

Hotel Macdonald

The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald’s patio was just named to enRoute magazine’s list of 5 Must-Visit Canadian Patios, but it’s amazing how many Edmontonians still haven’t been there. If you haven’t experienced it for yourself, this event will be a great opportunity to do so! All afternoon, staff will be providing tours of the historic downtown gem which turns 100 years old next July!

Hotel Macdonald

You can expect a signature cocktail, tasty food, entertainment, and of course, an amazing view of the river valley! We’re still working on the details and will have more to share in the days ahead. In the meantime, you can RSVP on Facebook!

UPDATE: Tickets are now on sale for $40, proceeds support the Edmonton Humane Society!

I hope to see you at some or all of these events!

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #121

Hope you’re all having a great summer so far! Here’s my latest update on local media stuff:

KDAYS 2014
Stacey Brotzel in the hot seat!

You can follow Edmonton media news on Twitter using the hashtag #yegmedia. For a great overview of the global media landscape, check out Mediagazer.

So, what have I missed? What’s new and interesting in the world of Edmonton media? Let me know!

You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here.

Edmonton Notes for 7/27/2014

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Solar powered home
Solar powered home in Larch Park, photo by David Dodge, you can learn more here

Upcoming Events

Edmonton K-Days Exhibition
K-Days, photo by IQRemix

Recap: Dîner en Blanc Edmonton 2014

Sharon and I dressed in white and joined hundreds of Edmontonians at our city’s first Dîner en Blanc event on Thursday, July 17. It was a rainy evening, but that didn’t deter attendees from taking advantage of the opportunity to participate in a unique visual spectacle in Edmonton’s river valley.

Here’s a description of the concept:

“At the last minute, the location is given to thousands of friends and acquaintances who have been patiently waiting to learn the “Dîner en Blanc’s” secret place. Thousands of people, dressed all in white, and conducting themselves with the greatest decorum, elegance, and etiquette, all meet for a mass “chic picnic” in a public space.”

In Edmonton the secret location turned out to be Louise McKinney Riverfront Park, a great choice for an event like this, with lots of space and a wonderful view of the skyline.

Audio Recap

For an overview of the Edmonton event, my thoughts, and more detail, check out my audio recap on Mixcloud.

Or you can download the MP3 here.

Photo Recap

Our group met at ATB Place downtown:

Diner en Blanc

After everyone had arrived and checked in, we started walking over to Louise McKinney Riverfront Park. It was funny to see all of the confused faces staring at us as we crossed the streets.

Diner en Blanc

It was a wet evening, so there were a lot of umbrellas and ponchos in the crowd. Sharon was happy with the clear one we picked up specifically for the event!

Diner en Blanc

We made it to the park to find hundreds of people busy setting up their tables and chairs in loose rows.

Diner en Blanc

The rain wasn’t too bad while we were setting up, but it started to get worse shortly after we took this photo!

Diner en Blanc

Food, wine, and water was available for pickup off to the side. Like most things throughout the night, we had to discover that for ourselves, as there wasn’t much guidance.

Diner en Blanc

There was some entertainment throughout the evening, including some dancers from Cavalia, and musicians up on stage. Again, there was no program or information about any of them.

Diner en Blanc

For the very briefest of moments, we saw the orange sun (thanks to the forest fire smoke). It didn’t last long though.

Diner en Blanc

We wondered why some people had tents and discovered that some enterprising folks decided to bring their own! There was no mention of tents on the list of prohibited items. Visually it does impact the effect, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them on the list next year.

Diner en Blanc

At some point we noticed others lighting their sparklers, so we joined in an lit ours as well. It probably would have been good to wait until it was a bit darker, but I think everyone was tired of the cold and rain.

Diner en Blanc

The sky darkened and the rain returned, so we joined the growing number of people who packed up and left after the sparklers.

Diner en Blanc

We made the best of a wet situation and had fun! In the end though, we decided that we likely wouldn’t attend again next year. Lots of other people seemed to love it though, so I’m sure the event will be back again next summer.

You can see more photos of the event here. You can learn more about Dîner en Blanc in Edmonton at their website, on Twitter, and on Facebook.