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Money Is infill housing the answer for Alberta's biggest cities?

09:07  05 june  2018
09:07  05 june  2018 Source:   cbc.ca

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Both Edmonton and Calgary have in recent years adopted policies aimed at revitalizing inner city neighbourhoods, reducing sprawl and building more diverse communities. "What I'm seeing in front of my eyes is that the objectives that Edmonton set that skinny homes were supposed to achieve

From expensive skinny houses to ultra-modern duplexes, infill development continues to be a source of controversy as Alberta ’ s biggest cities strive to encourage density. Bespoke developments may increase density, but critics argue high-end price tags decrease diversity.

a large brick building with grass in front of a house: Ultra-modern duplexes in mature Calgary neighbourhoods may sell near the top of the market, but they also give more people a chance to live in desirable areas, said builder Pedro Ocana.© Robson Fletcher/CBC Ultra-modern duplexes in mature Calgary neighbourhoods may sell near the top of the market, but they also give more people a chance to live in desirable areas, said builder Pedro Ocana.

From skinny houses in Edmonton to ultra-modern duplexes in Calgary, infill development continues to be a source of controversy as Alberta's biggest cities strive to encourage density.

Both Edmonton and Calgary have in recent years adopted policies aimed at revitalizing inner city neighbourhoods, reducing sprawl and building more diverse communities. But with boutique developments often selling at or near the top end of the real estate market in already-desirable neighbourhoods, some question whether the approach is having the desired result.

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From expensive skinny houses to ultra-modern duplexes, infill development continues to be a source of controversy as Alberta ’ s biggest cities strive to encourage density.

Is infill housing the answer for Alberta ' s biggest cities ? Analysis. A current project at 887 Grosvenor Ave. proposes to tear down a house that used to be called the " House of Rock" and was home to Roade Recording Studios.

"What I'm seeing in front of my eyes is that the objectives that Edmonton set that skinny homes were supposed to achieve … are not being achieved," Cassandra Haraba of the group Citizens for Responsible Development told Alberta at Noon .

The so-called "skinny" homes, typically built on 25-foot lots created by splitting a larger 50-foot lot, were intended to bring more young families to neighbourhoods with aging residents and combat suburban sprawl.

But with the modern buildings often listing for as much as $800,000 or $900,000, Haraba said the city is seeing them concentrated in just a few tony neighbourhoods that don't have trouble attracting new residents.

"We are focusing investment into neighbourhoods that were likely already stable, already had a good demographic and didn't need any help," she said. "There's no investment going into neighbourhoods that actually do need and want reinvestment."

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2.1 Infill housing . Although urban infill is an appealing tool for community redevelopment and growth management, it is often far more costly for developers to develop land within the city than it is to develop on the periphery, in suburban greenfield land.[9] Costs for developers include acquiring land

A better way to combat sprawl and encourage more diverse communities would be to stop approving new suburbs and create financial incentives for developers to create infill in less prestigious communities, she said.

"It all goes down to the pocketbook. If developers are saying we can only satisfy our pocketbooks by doing skinny homes in desirable neighbourhoods then we need to change it, so that they can get what they need and the communities can also get what they need."

Pricey housing still good for communities

Calgary builder Pedro Ocana, president of Sunset Homes, agrees custom infill is often pricey. But adding homes to existing communities still benefits those neighbourhoods.

About half the infill homes Ocana builds are duplexes built for clients who were already living on the site in a single family home, but who want to create additional housing for family or friends.

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According to the Urban Land Institute' s Urban Infill Housing Myth and Fact Report, "the rapid growth of infill housing in U. S . cities has been spurred in large part by the emerging market demand from people moving back to the city ."

Currently there is a lot of talk about ‘ infill ’ – the industry buzzword for underused, vacant and irregular shaped parcels of land within the city and inner suburbs. Success will rely on diversity of housing size and types provided, and how they respond to the climate, site and community.

a large brick building with a clock on the side of a house: The demand for skinny homes in Edmonton's mature neighbourhoods keeps rising, realtors and builders say.© UrbanAge Homes The demand for skinny homes in Edmonton's mature neighbourhoods keeps rising, realtors and builders say.

"They bought it five or 10 years ago, they're moving up — they have better jobs — and they have a friend or a family member that wants to live there as well," he said. "So they just tear it down and in 10 to 12 months you can move back in and live in these duplexes."

Adding infill to existing communities is also easier than building out new suburbs, Ocana said, because infrastructure and amenities, like transit, roads and shopping centres, are already in place.

"So if you're going to take the bus, the bus routes are already pre-established, you have grocery stores in place, so it's

And while much of the resistance to infill is due to aesthetics — ultra-modern duplexes may not always jive with neighbourhood character — Ocana said the solution lies in getting creative.

"There's nothing much we can do inside," he said. "But on the exterior there are a lot of options. There are so many materials right now that are low-maintenance, like aluminum that looks like wood."

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The answer would depend on the amount of infill that we. are able to build. One of the biggest single obstacles to infill development that includes housing , particu-larly affordable housing , is the unwillingness of local city gov-ernments to accept it.

They have started a “sue the suburbs” campaign that targets cities that don’t approve big housing projects and Yimby groups want to reduce the need for cars by building dense, infill housing close to transportation. But Trauss countered that not building is not the answer to the housing shortage.

New structures that adhere to contemporary building codes are also much more efficient and environmentally friendly, he added.

'It's a plus-one essentially'

Edmonton Journal columnist David Staples said he has become a convert to the skinny homes and other forms of infill starting to infiltrate Edmonton neighbourhoods. Although this form of housing can be expensive, it also frees up real estate on the lower end of the market, he said.

"You get an extra home on the market in a neighbourhood where that was not going to happen, so it's plus one essentially," he said.

And despite the initial uproar about skinny homes in the city, Staples said it still constitutes a very small segment of development in the city — of the 54,000 lots eligible for subdivision, only 133 were subdivided in the first year the city allowed it.

"It's not a huge trend, at least not yet."

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