Opposition to zoning bylaw renewal draws writer into the fray

Opposition to zoning bylaw renewal draws writer into the fray

· The Pulse

Seeing people begin to organize against the city's Zoning Bylaw Renewal Initiative made Edmonton writer David Berry decide to speak out about why the changes are necessary.

"I'm all in favour of people getting involved in municipal affairs as much as possible," he told Episode 224 of Speaking Municipally. "I thought it was important for them to hear from the other side, too."

Berry, who volunteers with the Westmount Community League, wrote an op-ed published in the Edmonton Journal on June 16 in support of the new zoning changes, and spoke in favour at city council's urban planning committee on June 20. He's now part of a new group called Grow Together Edmonton, which aims to better communicate the benefits of the city's proposed zoning revamp.

The Zoning Bylaw Renewal Initiative is the city's first major zoning overhaul since the 1960s. Some proposed changes include allowing developments of up to three storeys in residential areas without requiring a public hearing, and introducing new mixed-use zones to support main streets like Whyte Avenue.

Kevin Taft, a former leader of the Alberta Liberal Party, spoke against the initiative at committee, pointing to a survey of 300 people that he and fellow citizens hired Pollara Strategic Insights to conduct. The survey indicated 3% of respondents said they would be able to explain the changes to another person, while 11% had a general idea of the changes, and 62% had never heard of the initiative.

"A bylaw like this can do more harm than good," Taft wrote in an op-ed criticizing the proposed changes and the process, part of which city manager Andre Corbould rebutted in a letter to the editor.

Berry said he has sympathy for many of the concerns raised, but some seem to be based on misinformation.

"I just thought it was important to tell people, 'Look, this isn't the end of the world, these are pretty minor things that I think are going to make our city a lot better,'" he said. "It's not just the development industry that wants to see this… As a pretty regular person, to the degree that that's possible in Edmonton, I think these are good, and I want them to make these changes."

The city first started collecting public feedback on the zoning renewal in 2018. Edmontonians can still provide input on the proposed changes until July 30 through the city's public engagement website. Additional public hearings are scheduled for October, with the proposed implementation date set for Jan. 1, 2024.

Hear more about the zoning bylaw renewal, including Speaking Municipally co-host Troy Pavlek's own experience speaking in favour of the changes, on the June 24 episode of Taproot's civic affairs podcast.

Photo: Twice Cream, seen here in December 2022, is the kind of business that a dense neighbourhood like Westmount supports, David Berry suggested on Speaking Municipally. (Twice Cream/Facebook)