I received an e-mail from a development officer in a large rural municipality in northern Alberta who hopes to persuade his council to reduce the minimum permissible size of residential lots from the current minimum of 72′ x 110″, and wanted a second opinion from me.
He’s looking ahead, as rural municipal officials and politicians everywhere should. Here’s my response, more or less, to his query:
In the cities I’m familiar with, your proposed 50 or 55-foot lot frontage would not be considered small – nor would it count as large. In many high-quality suburban subdivisions a lot frontage on the order of 40-45 feet would be standard. To be sure, many suburban lots are larger than that, and a largely rural area like your county might not wish to emulate the standards of big-city suburban neighbourhoods. For now therefore, I consider your proposal to represent a reasonable balance between long-standing habits on one hand and the need, on the other, to look to the future.
The future is bound to look different from the past. Some communities in your county are experiencing growth rates approaching 7 per cent. In a rapidly-growing rural or semi-rural area it’s important to bear in mind that there are cities in your future, and to consider how these cities can develop in a manner that will keep taxes down and maintain the pristine environment your residents enjoy now. Moreover, there is a growing consciousness, in society as a whole, of the importance of environmental sustainability to the future of our communities – a consciousness shared by the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association.
In light of those considerations, I offer the following comments on your proposal:
In the long run, wider lots mandate more vehicle miles driven, as well as more pavement and longer lines of underground municipal services. As any municipal council is well aware, infrastructure is expensive – a consideration that will become more important as urbanization gets underway. There is a long and unhappy history of municipalities undertaking ambitious programs of infrastructure expansion, only to find themselves unable to justify the property tax levels required to maintain the infrastructure. In many cities across North America, the end result has been crumbling streets and sewer lines.
In light of these realities, it seems counter-productive to maintain a planning regime that forces developers and prospective homeowners to build and maintain large-lot developments, when some of them might well prefer medium-sized lots. It is worth underlining that the proposed changes do not force anyone to do anything. They only offer the option of slightly smaller lots to those who might wish to take advantage of it.
In short, your proposals look reasonable to me.