Neighbours who developed multifamily 'gem' look to replicate success

· The Pulse

A group of North Glenora neighbours who collaborated to build multifamily housing in their own backyards have already netted an Urban Design Award and are now looking to repeat their climate-focused success in another mature neighbourhood, just with a smaller footprint.

"We're in early discussions right now and early talks about doing the second one," T5M Connect president and director Ryan Young told Taproot.

Young said the group built its first project on two city lots, but the second will have to fit onto one, which has presented a challenge. "How do we do what we do, but build it in such a way that it's replicable and can be used across the city on one city property lot?"

That first development, called T5M Connect North Glenora, is a modestly sized 16-unit building with two wheelchair-accessible suites and a roof covered in solar panels that's built to Passive House standards. Readers familiar with Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie's Showtime series The Curse may know Passive Houses act as something of a Thermos, built to keep temperatures regulated to cut down on energy use.

Fittingly, the first electrical bill for the multifamily development's 16 units was just over $1,000. For comparison, Young said his single-detached home's monthly average is several hundred dollars.

Next up for the T5M group will be a similar building within another of Edmonton's mature neighbourhoods. Young did not name the location but did say will be close to transit. "If we're developing higher density (housing), then this should be along public transportation routes," Young said. "Where's the new LRT route going? Where are the key bus routes?"

Young and T5M don't want to keep their methods to build secret. Details on their development are available on the Smart Sustainable Resilient Infrastructure Association and ENBIX websites. Young is part of an advisory group for the latter, whose launch Taproot covered, based on his role as associate dean, industry engagement, for the J.R. Shaw School of Business at NAIT.

The amount of Edmonton's rental buildings owned by investment firms located outside the city grew by 22% between 2019 and 2022. Young said T5M's development is different. "We wanted to improve our own neighbourhood. We live here, we live just down the street, so we have more investment into what we're doing."

He was inspired by the concept of missing middle housing when he joined the development game. The term describes housing like duplexes, townhouses, and modestly-sized apartment towers that are smaller than a tall or sprawling complex but house multiple families, unlike a single-family home.

The missing middle was a hot topic during Edmonton's zoning bylaw reform process. Even some of Young's neighbours were hesitant about seeing missing middle redevelopment projects in North Glenora.

"There's a perception that multifamily brings down the value of their houses if they have single-family homes," Young said. "Some people have apologized to us. And one person even said, 'This is a gem in the neighbourhood.'"

An aerial view of a multifamily housing development next to a single-family home.

A multifamily, Passive House-principled development in North Glenora is the first in what will be become a series of builds by T5M Connect. (Supplied)

Fittingly, neighbours were key to build the T5M development. Young and his wife Michelle joined forces with fellow couple Melissa and David Campbell to form T5M in June 2020. They hired Noemi LoPinto of Treetop Urban Gardens and Erin Olefeldt, climate resilience advisor at Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues and sustainability director for North Glenora Community League, to install and design landscaping, respectively. Rummy Dabgotra of Level Digital maintains the website, Maryan Ali manages the property, and James Shrimpton of Helix Design helped with graphic design, Young said.

More environmental considerations include solar panels and the landscape design. LoPinto and Olefeldt's work included plant guilds that are similar to biodynamic farming, where plants work together in symbiosis.

"One plant will help another plant pollinate, and they'll work together to be an effective community of plants or vegetation," Young said. "It's not just purely for aesthetics."

Edmonton was reminded in December that our city can get very, very cold. Young said his Passive House-principled development endured the test of its heating capabilities.

"We use air-source heat pumps to heat the entire complex … We have no natural gas hookups to the building at all," he said, adding that heat pumps are typically effective in temperatures as low as -22 to -30° C. "We well surpassed what they were tested to."

The demand for suites in the North Glenora building bodes well for T5M's next development. All 16 units are occupied and Young said there's a waiting list of prospective tenants.

Where demand lags is for the building's eight parking stalls. Young said many tenants shrugged off using the amenity. The T5M illustrates work the group did to reassure the community on this common point of concern for multifamily infill developments, including a parking study.

T5M Connect North Glenora was designed by architect Oscar Flechas, a past chair of Passive House Alberta, who also runs Calgary-based firm Flechas Architecture.

Correction: This file has been updated to correct the name of Noemie LoPinto.