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St. Albert council adds housing options to developers' toolbox

Front-back duplexes, zero-lot-line single-family, now allowed in St. Albert

Developers now have more housing options to consider when planning new neighbourhoods in St. Albert. 

On Nov. 30, St. Albert city council unanimously passed second and third readings of two amendments to the city's land use bylaw (LUB), which permit the construction of front-back semi-detached homes with a new district, and zero-lot-line single-family homes.

In addition, council approved the redistricting of urban reserve lands marked for Strata Developments' North Ridge neighbourhood, a future residential neighbourhood north of Villeneuve Road.

The city's draft of the new municipal development plan (MDP) notes that as St. Albert's population grows, greater housing diversity is required throughout the city. According to the 2018 municipal census, 70 per cent of the city's housing stock was single-family homes priced at upwards of $400,000 on average.

"We have to recognize we've moved a significant way forward on one of our major strategic priorities," said Coun. Ken MacKay during the meeting. "We were all advocating for improving or finding that 'missing middle' and enhancing housing options within our community."

Courtney Jensen, chair of the Urban Development Institute (UDI) St. Albert chapter, said the allowance of zero-lot lines is "essential" for developers to build single-family homes while achieving higher density requirements set out by the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board (EMRB).

"If we have to have really high-density areas, and we don't have tools like zero-lot-line, we're not going to have a lot of single-family homes any more – we have to do tons of duplexes to meet our density requirements," she said.

Eight other municipalities in the region, including Morinville, Edmonton and Strathcona County, allow for zero-lot-line developments. 

What are zero-lot-line homes? 

The single-family home itself is pretty much exactly the same, Jensen said. But with a zero-lot-line home, the home is built on the property line on one side, meaning you'll only have one side yard on the other side of the home. 

This allows for homes to be built closer together, but land costs are less expensive for new home buyers. Jensen estimated zero-lots result in $15,000 savings per unit.

"It's fairly attractive for a new home buyer to be able to get a single-family home for a similar price than what they would pay for a duplex," she said. 

In the backgrounder document, administration said there were concerns that zero-lots would reduce on-street parking, room for trees, and snow storage compared to traditional single-family developments.

Jensen said this isn't true, as zero-lot-line single-family homes would take the place of duplex developments, which already allow for a similar amount of space between driveways. 

"Whenever you're taking a look at zero-lot-line versus duplexes, I think it's important to remember that when it comes to snow storage, boulevard trees, and street furniture, you already allow a streetscape with this type of spacing and these type of constraints," Jensen told council.

Jensen, who is also a managing partner with Strata Development, used the subdivision planning for the North Ridge development as an example, one with duplexes and one with zero-lot single family homes. The graphic showed zero-lots have slightly more space between driveways compared to duplexes.

The North Ridge neighbourhood would be the first in St. Albert to meet the new density requirements, Jensen said. 

What's front-back residential? 

These homes look like single-family homes driving down the street, but one unit has a front-facing garage, while the other has a detached garage in the back with rear lane access.

"In a normal subdivision, you would either get a whole row of just front attached duplexes, or you would get a whole row of just rear detach. Whereas having this front back now means that you can mix the two products on one street," Jensen explained.

Jim Killoh with Rohit Communities said these homes have been "well-received in the market," with products built in Edmonton and Fort Saskatchewan.

"Some people like the front-attached garage – others who want to do less shovelling go with the rear detached garage," Killoh said.

Coun. Ray Watkins called the new housing product a "win for everybody." 

"This provides another housing option for existing and new citizens to the City of St. Albert and it speaks directly to affordability by providing a housing option which is basically more affordable than single-family housing, but it still looks like a single-family house," said Watkins.

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