Advocates gear up for public hearing on zoning bylaw

Stakeholder groups are rallying their supporters ahead of a public hearing on Oct. 16, after which Edmonton's city council will decide whether to adopt a new zoning bylaw.

The zoning bylaw renewal represents the largest overhaul of the bylaw since the 1960s. The proposed changes would simplify the number and types of zones in Edmonton. Multi-unit developments of up to three storeys would be allowed in residential areas without requiring a public hearing, and the new bylaw would introduce mixed-use zones to promote walkable combinations of homes and businesses.

Among the supporters are Grow Together Edmonton, Paths for People, and Climate Justice Edmonton. They have come together to organize Drinks for Density, a social event on Sept. 25 designed to equip people with the language needed to confidently speak in favour of the new bylaw at the hearing.

"It's kind of an unfortunate truth that municipal issues don't really get the kind of attention that provincial or federal ones do," Grow Together representative David Berry told Taproot, "even though these are the ones that will affect your day-to-day life. This, again, literally has the potential to change the neighbourhood you live in and what you want out of it."

A group called the Coalition for Better Infill is encouraging bylaw opponents to ask council to delay approving it for a year. It has distributed brochures in mature neighbourhoods and published a critical op-ed on Sept. 17. The group was created after an urban planning committee meeting in June, at which many of the same players spoke for and against the proposed bylaw.

"What's happening is that people are organizing in their own communities," spokesperson Kevin Taft said. "We're really happy to support community groups around the city who are wanting to engage with the public."

City councillors sit in a row behind a long, curved desk in a brightly lit room with light wooden furniture.

The zoning bylaw renewal initiative began in 2018 and is coming before city council for approval after a public hearing on Oct. 16. Implementation is planned for January 2024 if it is approved. (Mack Male/Flickr)

UDI-Edmonton Metro, which represents the development industry, held a discussion panel for its members on Sept. 21 to give them an overview of the proposed changes and brief them for the hearing.

"We've been sort of paying attention the whole way along," executive director Kalen Anderson said. "And, in general, we'll just make sure that we're there to represent industry and say that we're aware, we're partners in city-building, and we need a zoning bylaw."

Anderson suggested that Edmontonians hoping to say their piece write to their councillors or come to the hearing with a specific message to share.

"Having a really core idea of what it is you're trying to communicate and sharing either a personal story or experience, or a really specific idea that you're seeking to advance, is probably more helpful," Anderson said.

Although the language around zoning focuses on buildings and infrastructure, at the end of the day, it's about the people, Berry said.

"We really do want to build a community and kind of remind people that that is ultimately what a city is: one large community, or a series of smaller communities that all have to find a way to live together," he said.

The city has published an overview of the proposed zoning changes, a breakdown of the hearing process, and a form to register to speak.