COLUMN: A closer look at infilling

They ain’t making any more land, as Mark Twain once said.

They ain’t making any more land, as Mark Twain once said.

And we can’t go on forever converting our farms and forests into urban developments.

Agriculture is the cornerstone of Summerland’s economy and we only have a finite supply of arable land.

We need to preserve our wilderness to maintain natural habitats, protect our water quality, and provide opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Even if there was an abundance of land, the networks of new roads, sewers and water pipes required for expansive developments are costly to build and maintain.

Within these constraints, we must find a way to accommodate new growth and continue to build our community.

So we need to be smart and strategic in our planning.

Summerland’s various neighbourhoods of single-detached homes were first laid out and built in an era of large and growing families.

Large lot sizes were needed for septic effluent.

Sidewalks and bike lanes weren’t considered important because everyone came and went by car.

Today, retiring baby boomers and millennials alike are attracted to smaller, lower-maintenance homes.

People walk and cycle more, and large lots are no longer necessary because houses are connected to sewer.

Municipal planning needs to address such changing demographics, population shifts, and technological and social change.

While Summerland’s Official Community Plan (OCP) identifies several land pockets that could become new subdivisions, most of the current building activity is occurring within established neighbourhoods.

We are seeing the redevelopment of teardowns, new carriage homes, and the subdivision of individual lots to allow for two houses on parcels that had been zoned for one.

Single lot development is usually done on a small scale and can bypass the long and costly process of consolidating and servicing large tracks of land.

It also better allows for the participation of local developers, and serves to drive steady growth rather than boom and bust.

The addition of new housing units to existing neighbourhoods is referred to as ‘infill’.

The OCP supports infill within a quarter-mile of any service area.

In other words, a five-minute walk to picking up a litre of milk or loaf of bread. In the future, that diameter could extend to a 10-minute walk, then to a 15-minute walk, and so on as needed.

Densification won’t make a significant dent in Summerland’s existing stock of single-detached houses but it will increase the supply of mixed housing types and provide a balance to the housing market.

As retirees and empty nesters downsize to new smaller units, young families will better be able to afford the old larger family homes.

While infill housing ought to respect and complement the character of a neighbourhood, it should also bring about renewal, for example by making an area’s population dense enough to support sidewalks, bike lanes and even public transit.

In fact, if we want a populace that can support local stores, restaurants and cafés, recreation and cultural facilities, and other amenities that make up a vibrant community, then densification is not an option, it’s a prerequisite.

Doug Holmes is a Summerland councillor. The views expressed by the author are his alone and do not necessarily reflect council policy.