Infill and the City's Bottom Line
At a Special Executive Committee meeting yesterday, Councillors were presented with reports on the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay Review, the Subdivision Process, and the top of bank zoning questions that Executive Committee posed to Administration in early October.
As with most of our meetings on the topic of infill, residents came to speak passionately about their concerns with lot subdivision and the changes they may see in their neighbourhoods. Some of those concerns are well-founded, as is some of the anger that residents expressed about the process that brought us to this point, particularly regarding subdivision. I’ve written about the issues with the process in an earlier blog post, so you can check that out here for more detail.
The Property Tax Impact
There are significant financial considerations that we have to factor in when considering the density debate, and those considerations apply to the whole City. Most people heard that Council passed its first 3-year Operating Budget, settling on a 3.4% property tax increase for 2016 and 2017, and a 4.8% increase for 2018. Many people have contacted me and said that this increase is too, that the City needs to do more with less, and to find efficiencies where we can to reduce the burden on the taxpayer.
To those people, I say that you are right. We do need to find efficiencies. Truth be told, we’ve found a big one, arguably the biggest one. It’s increasing density and making Edmonton more compact. We need to increase density in the new suburban neighbourhoods and in our mature neighbourhoods as well. We can’t continue to let Edmonton stretch out and out and out, all the while trying to keep up with the demand for pipes, fire stations, and roads that are needed for these new areas.
We already have this infrastructure, much of it being renewed rapidly, in Edmonton’s core and mature neighbourhoods. All the amenities are already there, and in most cases are already underused. Adding more density to the core and mature neighbourhood is the most efficient and expedient way that the city has to keep property taxes low over the long term.
Density doesn’t mean that everyone will have to live in the same type of housing. Density means diversity in housing options and forms that attract more people to living in areas where services already exist. Diversity could mean that the lot sizes in your neighbourhood vary more but the houses remain single-detached. It could mean that the exterior roads of your neighbourhood would be focal points for the development of row housing and higher density housing.
Some neighbourhoods will get more diversity than others, by virtue of their existing characteristics. For example, the neighbourhood of Oliver has an incredibly diverse array of housing options: single detached houses, duplexes, triplexes, row housing, apartments, you name it they’ve got it. Oliver’s position near the core and it’s well-established transit services make it a desired destination for many Edmontonians. A neighbourhood like Allendale offers less diversity than Oliver, but has attached housing and small lot housing that can provide those options to people who want a more traditional neighbourhood feel without a large house footprint.
The City is committed to focusing on creating density on transit nodes and on arterial corridors . This focus is planning best practice, and is affirmed by much of what we’ve heard from residents. And in our RF1- largely single detached neighbourhoods, which uses more than half of Edmonton’s developed land, we are permitting lot subdivision to welcome a few more homes and families to fit in there in slightly smaller single detached homes.
On the heels of Budget 2016-18 and a lot of talk about fiscal constraint I would argue the most fiscally responsible thing this and any future city council can do is to make Edmonton more compact. Efficient use of land leads to efficient use of services and ultimately less demand on residential taxpayers.