In the media: RedBrick’s first narrow lot design revealed

I was interviewed by David Staples, a columnist for the Edmonton Journal.  We discussed the City of Edmonton’s proposed bylaw changes to allow subdivision of 50ft lots, and how the combination of narrow lots with flexhousing principles will help bring affordable family housing to mature neighbourhoods.  Here is a link to the complete article.

Through my involvement with Elevate, the Sustainable Communities Taskforce report, my community league, and the NextGen Committee, I have learned that if we are going to attract young families and next geners to the mature neighborhoods and help reduce school closures, we have to provide affordable housing models that suit their needs and lifestyles.  So many young couples and families that I know would love to live in a mature neighborhood, but the two key barriers for them are affordability and sizable housing product.  We can help solve those issues by combining two ideas –  narrow lots and a housing design principle called flexhousing.  The narrow lot subdivision reduces the price of the land by half, while flexhousing principles allow you to modify and change your house to meet your needs based on your current economic status and size of your household.  FlexHousing allows you to age in place, in the neighborhood you love.

Here is our first, of many, narrow lot flexhousing designs that we hope to build here in Edmonton.  It is based on a conceptual design by Bruce Fisher (NY, USA), and drawn by PlanWorks Design & Planning.
Let me paint a picture of how narrow lots and flexhousing can mesh to create great infill developments. John and Mary are a young professional couple, who want to buy a home in a great mature neighborhood. Right now their need for space is limited.  A flex house design on a narrow lot, like the one shown, provides that living space for them on the upper two levels, while providing a flex space or secondary suite on the level below. In addition to a lower purchase price as a result of the narrow lot, John and Mary rent out this suite to help make this house more affordable. Flash forward a few years and now with two kids, the upper living space is no longer enough for the growing family. They take back the bottom level and with a few minor modifications, expand their living space to all levels. Now flash forward again, and Jack their eldest is ready to go to college. The bottom suite is reverted back to provide more private accommodations for Jack, or rented out and the income is used to help pay for Jack’s tuition. Years later the kids have all moved out and John and Mary are feeling the need to downsize . Their eldest son Jack who is now starting a family of his own and wants his kids to be near their grandparents, moves into the upper levels while John and Mary move to the secondary suite below which is also barrier free accessible.

Now what about parking? This particular design allows for a parking stall at the front for the secondary suite, with two additional stalls off the back lane for the principal dwelling. If our parking bylaws were relaxed to provide 1 stall for each dwelling, particularly in TOD areas, the front stall could be eliminated. As you can see from this design, front loaded parking can work without distracting from the overall aesthetic appeal of the house or street front. It does not have to protrude and take over the front yard, as seen in much of the suburbs of today.

In order for the above scenario to happen, the following changes need to be made to the bylaws:
1) Allow secondary suites, garages suites, and garden suites on narrow lots, semi-detached and duplex housing
2) Allow the dwelling to cover more than 28% of the site to ensure floor plans are suitable for families, or eliminate it altogether and just specify a minimum outdoor amenity area.
3) Increase the max height in the Mature Neighborhood Overlay from 8.6m to 10m, to match the Zoning Bylaw. Or make max building heights neighborhood specific.
4) Allow Narrow Lot subdivision in R1 zoning, not just limited to R2, R3, or R4.
5) Look at relaxing parking bylaws for single family and secondary suites, especially in TOD areas.

Here is a house that Paul and I recently toured in Seattle, designed and built by Greenfab and Hybrid Architecture (photo credit:Greenfab).  This house encompasses both concepts of narrow lot design and flexhousing prinicples, and illustrates how front garages can work without being obtrusive and distracting to the overall design aesthetic.

I know this a big wish list, but these are not new ideas and developments like this are being built in cities like Vancouver, Portland, Seattle. We need to think differently if we are going to attract families back to the core, create quiet density in mature neighborhoods, and facilitate aging in place. I applaud the City of Edmonton for initiating these steps, but instead of taking small steps, lets leap forward and support innovative ways to provide great affordable housing product to mature neighborhoods in Edmonton.  I’m willing and want to Make Something Edmonton… will you help?

~ tmd





  • November 7, 2012 at 3:56 pm // Reply

    Just wondering what the square footage of that basement suite would be?

    • November 7, 2012 at 8:43 pm // Reply

      With the design as it is currently shown, the main level secondary suite would be approx 550sf. If the parking area was removed, it could be increased.

  • November 9, 2012 at 2:38 pm // Reply

    I love the house at the bottom of this article. That is exactly what my wife and I would love to buy but there just isn’t anything like it in Edmonton. Keep up the good fight!

  • November 30, 2012 at 6:55 pm // Reply

    Love the ideas and it’s high time the city got creative about inner city housing. That said, I wouldn’t want taller buildings darkening my little old house downtown.

  • March 20, 2013 at 4:25 pm // Reply

    Love the concept! It’s wonderful to see Edmontonians continuing to push the envelope.
    My concern & curiousity is will the economics be attractive enough to buyers?
    $175k for a 25′ lot + $150/sf frame construction @ 1,600sf = approx. $415k.
    I’m not in the Edmonton market anymore so my construction values may be off but, assuming they’re not completely out to lunch, what does $415k buy in Edmonton? And will this be appealing enough to buyers in a market where money is plentiful and the notion of “quantity” is perceived to be better than “quality?” Or in some cases, the erroneous assumption that quantity leads to quality (i.e. bigger house leads to better life).
    Either way, I think the concept is great and would love to see it come to fruition.

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