Skip to content

EDITORIAL: Strong infill strategy key to future development

'In the era of suburban sprawl, infill housing can be a great way for a municipality to grow while using existing infrastructure, but meaningful development that won't tamper with a neighbourhood's existing charm or neighbours' property values should really be the goal.'
ourview

St. Albert city council, as part of its budget deliberations in December, voted to move forward with directing $208,100 to fund an infill development strategy for the city's older neighbourhoods. 

Hopefully it will be money well spent. 

Infill in this case is defined as the development of vacant lots in previously developed areas.

Often this type of development can be contentious to existing neighbours, and controversial, especially if it involves densified housing in an area with mostly single-family homes. 

The city's mature neighbourhood revitalization strategy will gather feedback from businesses, developers, and residents, with a plan to set parameters around where, what type, and how much infill development will be allowed.

This is a necessity, and likely long overdue, as it will set meaningful boundaries around what is possible in neighbourhoods and what is not — before a battle brews.

St. Albert's land use bylaw already has infill guidelines for single- and semi-detached houses and duplexes.

But its limited policy direction around rezoning for land-use intensification leaves the door wide open, which leads to the types of clashes that arise over projects such as Riverbank Landing in Oakmont, the 80-unit condo project in Braeside, and Grandin Parc Village complex in Grandin.

In the era of suburban sprawl, infill housing can be a great way for a municipality to grow while using existing infrastructure, but meaningful development that won't tamper with a neighbourhood's existing charm or neighbours' property values should really be the goal.

With an infill strategy such as the one administration plans to move forward on, the city can set out the style and type of projects it allows for, including height restrictions and size, to ensure a good fit in a well-established spot.

The word "densification" often strikes fear in the hearts of long-time residents and property owners who stand to lose much financially, aesthetically, and with regard to an area's character, from builds with little thought given to what they make take away from a neighbourhood.

The city's strategy must take much into consideration, including such basics as infrastructure, with road access, parking, and transit.

Then there are the more delicate pieces — how a project will alter the spirit of a street or cul de sac and its environmental impact on local vegetation, the water table, and visual beauty.

Real estate in St. Albert is an investment. Changes to neighbourhoods can drastically affect property values. 

The more guidelines around how those changes can take place, the better, for all involved.

Infill efforts are sure to fail unless the city balances its opportunistic goals fueled by the promise of fresh tax revenue without shortchanging existing residents. This will involve balancing a project's commercial viability to a developer with how attractive it will be to its immediate neighbours.

It's a tall order, one that involves a lot of listening, foresight, and thought given to an approach that benefits everyone.

Editorials are the consensus view of the St. Albert Gazette’s editorial board.