Residents concerned over plans for infill: Rules too restrictive: builders

By Phil Tank, The StarPhoenix December 11, 2013 - Proposed new rules for infill dwellings met with substantial opposition at City Hall on Tuesday. Citizens and developers raised concerns at a meeting of city council's planning and operations committee about aging sewage and water infrastructure, scarce parking, limits on housing size and tampering with the character of established neighbourhoods.

City administration introduced a proposal for changes to the rules governing infill development, which includes new houses and additions of garden or garage suites to properties that already have homes. The rules include height limits and minimum distances between houses and property borders.

"It's silly to do this," said City Park resident Anne Smart. "You've got to look at where you're doing this and what's under the ground."

Smart said a water main break in her neighbourhood this summer resulted from aging water and sewage infrastructure and proves the system can't handle the greater demand that would come with adding infill population to established areas. Coun. Pat Lorje said a rash of water main breaks this summer warrants further investigation, and the committee passed a resolution to study the problem.

The city's manager of planning and development, Alan Wallace, said approval of infill housing will be vetted with awareness of whether infrastructure in the area is sufficient.

"There's a lot of work here that we'd like to see go forward," Wallace said of the recommendations. The city already has a backlog of requests for garden and garage suites for 2014, he said. Two developers who attended the meeting panned the proposed limits on the size of infill houses and other restrictions, like limiting multi-unit homes to corner lots.

"Every other municipality allows those tall skinny houses," said Mark Kelleher, whose company, BlackRock Developments, specializes in infill housing.

The proposed changes include height limits of six metres (19.7 feet) for outside walls and 8.5 metres for total height including the roof. Kelleher, who has been building houses in the city for 10 years, said that's close to the minimum standard for a two-storey home and could be "problematic."

Tim Ryan, another local developer, questioned restricting the size of infill homes to 40 per cent of the total lot. City administrative staff said that particular proposed rule will be revisited.

"I think we're ignoring the market," Ryan said. "We're making it less affordable for people to get into an established neighbourhood when we limit site coverage to 40 per cent. Some of these recommendations are, in my opinion, going backwards."

Coun. Charlie Clark said the city needs standards to approach infill development.

"It's finding a balance," he said. "This is a huge issue in the neighbourhoods."

Lorje said she was contacted by the Holiday Park Community Association requesting input into plans for infill.

Barb Biddle, president of the Montgomery Place Community Association, asked for her neighbourhood to be exempt from the infill rules. She cited the area's narrow streets and the need to preserve its character. The neighbourhood was established as a place where Second World War veterans could settle, and there remain many connections, Biddle said.

"We are not a community in need of revitalization."

The committee passed a resolution to give Montgomery Place special consideration, in addition to passing the recommendations on to city council.

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