Smaller lots a step in the right direction
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 01, 2012 06:00 am
It should come as a shock to none that St. Albertís population is aging. The numbers from the latest federal census bear that out. The percentage of seniors in the city grew from just over 10 per cent to over 12 per cent in five years.
In 1981, 40 per cent of St. Albertans were under 18 years; today that figure sits at just 24 per cent. St. Albertís situation in this regard is not unique and the greying of the city will only continue. As the baby boomers, the biggest generation in history, reach their golden years, Canada is aging along with them and St. Albert will not escape the demographic wave.
Seniors have an important role in St. Albert. Not only did they help build the community, but they continue to play vibrant roles in making it better.
But seniors will not be able to keep the cityís schools open or push for the creation of new ones. They will not keep the playgrounds and sports fields full. The seniors of St. Albert are done creating new St. Albertans.
The same census numbers that showed St. Albert was greying also showed it is not growing as quickly as its neighbours. Morinville grew by 26.5 per cent over the last five years, Spruce Grove by over 30 and Leduc by 43 per cent. St. Albert posted a relatively anemic 6.4 per cent.
The young families that grow a community, that see new schools constructed and keep old ones open are leaving St. Albert in greater numbers.
St. Albertís high taxes almost certainly play a role in this, but so does the high cost of housing in the city.
In response to these trends, Mayor Nolan Crouse asked city administration to study raising the number of smaller lot homes in new subdivisions. Currently, when a developer builds a new subdivision, up to 20 per cent of the lots can be 10 metres wide.
Administration has suggested that number could easily rise to 40 per cent, but is studying options that will come back to council in the new year.
The same bylaw that limits small lots to 20 per cent mandates that large lots, those over 14.5 metres, make up at least 50 per cent of a neighbourhood. Both those targets need examining.
Smaller lots allow a developer to put more houses on a single piece of land. It means the smaller starter homes many young families are looking for can be built more easily in St. Albert.
The Capital Region Board has mandated that all communities in the region move toward denser development. Almost none of St. Albertís existing neighbourhoods meet the boardís standards and this could bring the city closer.
City council will have to walk a fine line when it makes these moves. Smaller lots may change the character of St. Albert more than the residents will want.
While developers will profit from smaller homes it may not make for more affordable homes. The urge to gild smaller homes with expensive upgrades may push costs up.
But just because there are potential roadblocks doesnít mean the city shouldnít try and council should be applauded for taking the first step.