EHC’s Response to Proposed Zoning Bylaw Renewal

Since the initial publication of this post, the Zoning Bylaw Renewal has been passed. We also recommend the report History of Zoning in Edmonton for broader background (and historical perspective) on zoning bylaw renewal, as well as Arts Habitat Edmonton‘s thoughtful analysis of how the renewal relates to Edmonton’s creative infrastructure.

The renewal of Edmonton’s Zoning Bylaw is intended to address essential matters in Edmonton’s City Plan in creating a livable and accessible city. This should be welcomed by all Edmontonians. Meeting the need for a more compact city, with more attainable housing and available services in more neighbourhoods should also be an opportunity to adapt and preserve existing heritage resources. “Preserve” is a complementary and essential value (and aim) in City Plan, along with these other aims.

The purpose of zoning is not as a primary tool for heritage preservation, but it will reasonably have an impact on preserving Edmonton’s heritage resources- the buildings, structures, places, landscapes and features that represent the important and diverse stories of Edmonton’s people and communities.

If the proposed bylaw results in increased development opportunities (as intended), the objectives of greater density and additional dwellings may come into competition with the heritage value of existing buildings, places, neighbourhoods. The challenge of retaining Edmonton’s historic resources is part of alonger and often difficult history and culture of development in the city. The loss of current and future unprotected historic resources (such as those on the inventory of historic resources) that could be preserved through designation may be an unintended consequence of the zoning bylaw. This loss happens occasionally under the current bylaw.

Additional guidelines and regulation supporting heritage preservation, as well as the reuse of existing buildings, should be considered. The heritage related incentives in the bylaw as proposed are modest. Current heritage areas—such as parts of Westmount, Garneau, Whyte Avenue, and Oliver—do have provision in the bylaw, but the removal of area structure plans may increase the vulnerability of heritage resources. To address this, we recommend:

  • That district planning includes provisions for heritage recognition and preservation.
  • That a process for adding heritage areas be considered.  
  • That the City’s Historic Resource Management Program be updated (as requested in the most recent four-year budget cycle) so it continues to reflect the values of Edmontonians, and increases their participation, connection, and sense of belonging reflected in Edmonton’s heritage resources.

As well, Edmonton’s development growth tends to demolish existing buildings (whether historically significant or not) without fuller consideration of a structure’s remaining life cycle, the full carbon cost of replacement, and potential reuse and adaptation needs to end. The greenest building is truly the one already standing—and retaining these is a significant factor in embedded carbon conservation. Heritage preservation is one of the “dividends” of addressing reuse and adaptation, along with the economic, cultural, and social value that heritage places include. Heritage preservation is not a cost; it is an investment that enhances the value of the city, its districts and its neighbourhoods over time. 

We will monitor the impact of bylaw changes in addressing the place of Edmonton’s heritage resources into the futureEdmonton’s historic resources need to be in the current and continuing conversation as part of the creative requirements of a growing city while preserving what Edmontonians value.