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City deals with bylaw 'tensions' around zoning change applications

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Neighbourhoods across Edmonton are starting to see the effects of changes to the city's zoning bylaw, and at least one homeowner is unhappy with the potential for a four-storey apartment to be built next to her house.

City councillors in October approved the overhaul of the bylaw for the first time in 60 years. The new bylaw allows more density and building types previously restricted to certain areas.

McKernan resident Julie MacLennan told CTV News Edmonton she recently noticed a sign on her neighbour's lawn proposing a change in zoning type for the lot, potentially allowing a four-storey building.

"My concern was that they weren't ... looking at the nature of the lot in terms of the proximity it is to the neighbours, primarily my home, and I just thought it was unreasonable to just stick a four-storey building where a two-storey one once stood, especially knowing how close the homes are together and how little space there is," MacLennan said.

"The thought of actually having a four-storey building right next door scared me, quite frankly, knowing that I would lose basically access to a view and have zero privacy once it's constructed."

City councillors unanimously approved the change in designation of the lot in question at a hearing last week that MacLennan attended.

MacLennan appreciates the need for more density in the city. She and her husband chose to buy their 2-1/2-storey infill house in the south-side neighbourhood close to the University of Alberta for nearby amenities, the convenience of living centrally and being close to many transit options.

Still, she doesn't think a big building, possibly with street-level stores, makes sense for the part of the neighbourhood in which she lives -- and city planning documents appear to back her up.

Fifteen new district plans that will guide how Edmonton grows are still slated to be finalized. Draft versions available online already show the streets and hubs best suited for redevelopment with walk-ups and medium-sized apartment buildings.

The lot neighbouring MacLennan's home is outside of those zones.

The McKernan Community League opposed the rezoning, too. In a letter to council, it says the lot is "not on the edge of the neighbourhood," that it's surrounded by lots zoned for small-scale residential and that it's not close enough to an LRT station to align with the city's planning documents for density.

City planners say it's not realistic to provide a lot-by-lot breakdown.

"It’s the best guess, for today, and how we evolve that is through these ongoing discussions," the City of Edmonton's Travis Pawlyk at the Feb. 20 hearing for the application to change the lot's zoning.

Michael Janz, the city councillor for the neighbourhood, said he acknowledges the tension that comes with transforming neighbourhoods but says council is trying to get ahead of big, complex problems.

"Change is always difficult and people have the right to raise their voice, but ultimately we’re in a climate crisis, we’re in a housing emergency, we need to figure out real solutions here," Janz told CTV News Edmonton on Monday.

"If you live around a train station, you can expect to see construction, you can expect to see density, because thousands of people want to live in those areas."

McLennan says she is considering moving before her neighbour redevelops, a burden she believes could have been avoided through clearer communication.

"I think it should have been explicitly stated in the City Plan," she said.

"I think it’s important so community members know what to expect."

Janz added the city should also balance the rights of property owners to apply for a development permit "to do something different with their home."

"If this person owns a home and wants to create a duplex or triplex or row housing, they have the ability to at least ask and go before council to do so," said the councillor for Ward Papastew.

"It's a tension that we're trying to navigate and we're trying to offer a sense of predictability and fairness to residents, but at the same time, we're also trying to balance the need for a growing city and to offer predictability and fairness to new residents who are looking for a place to live.

"We never want to be in a situation where 40 residents are held back from having a home because of one." 

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