Time to modernize our land-use regulations and continue pushing for a more sustainable city

While you might not normally associate Land Use Bylaws with excitement, the Zoning Bylaw Renewal Initiative is an exciting opportunity for our city to take a big step forward. We can create a more straightforward land use regulation process and permit denser, mixed-use communities throughout Edmonton. 

Given the significant impact of an updated Zoning Bylaw on how we build and move through our city, Paths for People has been active in promoting opportunities to get engaged on Zoning Bylaw renewal over the last several years. We’ve also engaged directly, representing our membership and have helped inform this basic rulebook for development, especially when it comes to bike parking and opportunities for further density throughout our communities. Denser, more mixed-use neighbourhoods can be easier to get around in than sprawling communities because more destinations are proximate to our homes.

At this point in time, we call on Edmonton City Council to pass the Zoning Bylaw renewal as currently drafted. Edmonton continues to be a leader in land development and city-building because we continually make big moves when it comes to land-use regulation, like removing parking minimums or allowing for duplexes throughout the City. It’s not by sheer luck that Edmonton’s overall housing market remains relatively more affordable than other major municipalities. We must continue moving forward and allowing for more housing to be built across our city to tackle the housing crisis that Canada faces.

On the note of moving forward, we echo calls from community organizations to do more to respond to the climate crisis. The Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues has developed a thoughtful, community-based statement regarding how we build our city. Upon passing the Zoning Bylaw renewal, we believe that Council should provide administration with further direction to ensure that the first round of review and adjustment to the bylaws focuses on climate crisis adaptation and mitigation.

This initiative is informed by one of the most extensive and thorough engagement processes the City of Edmonton has ever undertaken. Starting in 2018, the City of Edmonton has engaged with residents and community groups through webinars, open houses, online surveys, and more, representing a significant investment of time and resources. Edmontonians had over a 1000 days to have their opinion be heard regarding changes to the Zoning Bylaw. 

We could delay the Zoning Bylaw by a year, do more engagement, and then bring back climate-focused amendments. Or we could pass the Zoning Bylaw Renewal now, and then in the first annual update to the Zoning Bylaw, bring forward climate-focused amendments.

In our opinion, it is time to pass the Zoning Bylaw renewal AND provide administration direction to integrate subsequent updates to our new Zoning Bylaw that are focused explicitly on climate adaptation and mitigation.

We also want to stress that the city-building conversation will carry on past October 2023, as we noted in our blog post in June 2023. A new Zoning Bylaw helps us take one huge step towards being the livable, sustainable, multi-modal city we can be, but it’s still one of many steps required. There is always more work to do, like District Planning coming this Spring or safeguarding Bike Plan Implementation funding in December of this year.

Keep reading for more on why we love the new zoning bylaw and what we want to see improved as we move forward with implementation.

We LOVE Greater Fiscal Sustainability

Source – Councillor Ashley Salvador

Edmonton’s Zoning Bylaw Renewal is tackling an issue core to municipal budgeting across North America. Sprawl, lack of vibrant streets that hinder local business, and the expansion of unsustainable roadways are real, ongoing causes for municipal financial woes across North America.

By limiting development to low-density housing, North American cities have encouraged development to grow outward, increasing infrastructure, maintenance, and servicing costs. Allowing more density, sometimes referred to as growing “up” rather than “out”, allows the City’s population to increase in a financially stable way. Sprawling cities have also been associated with exclusionary zoning and has other, even more detrimental societal impacts because it has been used to divide communities along racial or social lines – including in Edmonton.

Source – Strong Towns

We LOVE Mixed-Use Communities

Just as we have regulations that restrict industrial facilities next to schools, we should have development regulations that enable complementary,  people-centered communities. The changes in the new Zoning Bylaw move us in this direction.

Under current regulations, it’s challenging to start a corner store, coffee shop, or hair salon – amenities that enrich our communities – without substantial work navigating rezoning and permitting processes. Further, our low density residential zones often don’t have enough residents to support local commercial zones, leaving communities without neighborhood amenities. They then are forced to drive to malls or big-box store developments.

By allowing for more density, flexibility, and mixed-uses in primarily residential zones, the proposed Zoning Bylaw would reduce red tape for local businesses, enabling them to thrive with support from nearby residents. These community-based local businesses are a key part of achieving our goal of 15 minute communities in the City Plan.

We Want MORE Climate-Focused Zoning Bylaw Updates and Building Codes

The continuous review of our land-use and building regulations should thread in climate considerations. We know administration will be monitoring the new Zoning Bylaw closely as it’s implemented, and opportunities to add or fine-tune climate considerations should be a priority for amendments. We’re not the only group to note this priority, from the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues to the BelMac Group, Edmontonians are saying loud and clear that climate change must be incorporated into every decision council makes.

For all kinds of development we can explore implementing heating electrification, deep energy retrofits, and EV-readiness within building codes and Zoning Bylaw where appropriate. Building Energy Step Codes and utility-decisions such as restricting new residential  natural gas lines in favour of heat pumps or district energy systems could move the needle on carbon emissions while directly saving consumers on costs. 

We understand that many of these decisions relate more directly to other forms of regulation (and not specifically the Zoning Bylaw). But, the ramifications of a new Zoning Bylaw will impact our entire development process. We should ensure that as we adjust building codes, infrastructure standards, and more in response to Zoning and development changes, we do so with a continued focus on responding to the climate crisis.

We LOVE moving forward together

In conclusion, the new zoning bylaw creates a regulatory environment where property-owners face fewer roadblocks to helping enhance our neighbourhoods through smart, affordable development in a mix of forms that can serve people and families.

Last year, the Globe and Mail’s editorial board identified Edmonton as a leader in addressing housing affordability, specifically because of the Zoning Bylaw Renewal. Edmonton has control over zoning reform, which has a direct impact on housing affordability. We must continue this momentum as a model for the rest of the country.

There comes a point where administration needs to buck up and present the next step that we can take. City Council then needs to have the courage to pass a motion to take that next step. Sometimes, some people don’t like the exact iteration of that next step and try to thwart taking a step forward. They make perfect the enemy of the good. In the case of the Zoning Bylaw, they make perfect the enemy of something pretty great.

We don’t 100% agree with everything in the Zoning Bylaw renewal – we would love to see even more rigour around parking for bikes and other mobility devices. But, we understand that levelling up the Zoning Bylaw now means we can continue moving forward. We have a new and improved basis for our land use regulations. We can then carry on the conversation regarding climate change related amendments, on this simpler and streamlined foundation.