Infill Woes, again

Imagine living next to this thing.

Imagine living next to this thing.

Citizens, Unite! Are your neighbourhoods feeling the pressure of infill building? Are our communities being sold to the highest bidder – to whomever can build the largest house on the smallest lot? We need to let our politicians know that there needs to be much more stringent controls on what is allowed in mature neighbourhoods.

In our city, many residents of older communities expect that the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay (MNO) regulations will protect them from unsuitable buildings in their area. And they have – in the past, but that is expected to change. I attended the first public meeting of the Old YEG Cafe held earlier this month and one of the panelists suggested that there was a movement afoot to change these MNO’s in order to facilitate more infill projects.

Sometimes infill works extremely well, but most of the time it doesn’t. The best infills are those that are built in context with the neighbourhood. Sometimes the designs are very contemporary and those can work if they flow with the massing and scale of the other buildings around them. The impact on the street-scape is what people notice.

Some of these infill houses are what I call bad neighbour houses. The two photos here represent such a house. Not only is it totally out of scale with the houses on the street, it has all the elements that will cause neighbours to resent the building and by extension, its owners.

The distance allowed between a house and its neighbours is more restrictive when there are windows. The builder or architect of this house apparently knew this and decided they would simply create an almost three story blank wall on the north side and position the building as close as possible to the property line. This means that the neighbouring house is completely in shadow year round and that the view out of the windows is a blank wall.

To make matters worse, the steep shed-style roof is made of metal. The overhang of the roof is almost at the property line. (The direction the photograph was taken does not show this clearly.) As the roof warms up, there is nothing to stop great avalanches of snow to slide off and dump onto the neighbour’s roof and sidewalk.  I suspect the neighbours have more than their fair share of snow to shovel because of this – and who wants more of that? Imagine what this could do in the spring when all the snow melts?

the neighbours. Look at the amount of room available on the right hand side of this picture!

There was no reason to push the house so close to the neighbours. Look at the amount of room available on the right hand side of this picture!

The irony is that the house is positioned so that the balance of the property on the south is empty. There is plenty of room on the lot to have moved the house over a few feet. (Again, the photograph does not show how much more room there really is). In addition, the huge wall of windows (3 stories – the basement has been dug out and there is a complete row of windows there as well) will ensure that the neighbours on the south side, who also own a bungalow, will never have privacy again. Imagine that many windows facing your house and yard.

Who is to blame for such travesty? The builder? The owner? The city? Or all of them? We need more than “guidelines” in our communities. No one wants design police, but it’s necessary to have some good rules about what is acceptable, and works within the community’s character. That’s what the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay was supposed to do for us, and that is now under threat.

Nothing will change unless we become more involved. This is why it is important for citizens to be heard. No one is safe. Attend the next Old YEG Cafe public meeting on March 2. Click here for more information. Please pass this on.

Ok, I’ll get off my soap box now… 🙂

4 responses to “Infill Woes, again

  1. In my neighbourhood, what’s worse than building new homes on empty lots of historic homes is the converting of beautiful old houses into illegal boarding houses that invariably fall into disrepair. 😦

    • Old houses can appear attractive to slum landlords who don’t care to restore or fix a house but rather just milk it for whatever they can get until no one is desperate enough to pay rent on a run -down house. We have one on our street too. It’s a wonderful old house – more than 100 years of age and it makes me want to cry when I see how it’s allowed to deteriorate.

  2. It would be a miracle if they could be friendly neighbors! If they must have that shed roof, why didn’t they slant it the other way? Why didn’t the building inspector insist on it? Can you imagine the water that is going to run off on that poor neighbor?

    • Exactly. Probably because the windows would have had to be smaller. It’s a great example of what I would call selfish design. Designing and building for one person’s wants without taking into consideration how it may affect everyone else. Yes, I think the house inspector missed the boat on this one. The neighbour is obviously very concerned about spring thaw.

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