The experience of building her infill home gave her insight

Melanie Anderson, the new development director of Alberta Avenue Community League, has a unique insight into development.

She just finished building her infill home on 93 Street and 116 Avenue, a process that took two years. Anderson was initially looking for a condo downtown, but then realized she could afford to buy a house instead.

“My focus shifted to finding a character home, but there were lots of renovations involved.”

With the help of her father, a knowledgeable handyman who built the homes she grew up in, she decided to become her own general contractor and design and build her own home.

“Infill is a particular challenge,” Anderson says. “I was building my home at the same time the energy code changed. Insulation values changed mid-build. Inspectors were slow to react to building code changes, or they’d overreact. It was kind of up in the air for awhile.”

There was the added complication of the previous mature neighbourhood overlay before the overhaul in 2017. “You have to build within a subset of rules, and it’s very open to interpretation.”

At the same time, her father hadn’t built a house since the early 2000s. “He convinced me to build based on what he knew, but a lot has changed.”

When she was building her house, she also had to communicate with her neighbours over variances: moving her house forward a foot and raising the height of the basement to avoid having basement window wells.

“It was interesting [when] meeting my neighbours,” she explains. They had a lot of anxiety about a new house being built, even though her home was replacing a problem property. She had challenges getting some neighbours to sign off on her variances due to bad infill experiences.

She had heard stories of cracked foundations due to infill, so she was careful in noting the exact condition of surrounding homes before demolition and was deliberate in hiring a contractor who specialized in infill demolition. The day the old house was demolished, her whole block came out to watch.

“I think after that day, people relaxed a little.”

During the rest of the build, she was present everyday. “I became a good watchdog, checked in everyday, making sure contractors were respectful. It was nice to see the shift in [my neighbours’] attitude.”

In the end, she navigated the system and built a beautiful home. Because she’s new to the neighbourhood, she decided to attend Alberta Avenue’s Annual General Meeting (AGM). The position of development director was vacant.

“I didn’t think I would do anything that night. I just went to check out an AGM. The position came up and it just felt right,” Anderson says. “[Building my house] gave me a different perspective and led me to sticking up my hand at the last minute.”

In her position as development director, she brings the perspective of “[being] pro-development, but in a responsible manner.”

She adds, “I’d like for development to be more of a conversation and to keep residents informed.”

She’ll be looking at incoming permit applications, which can include home-based businesses, single-family homes, garage suites, or commercial permit applications within the boundaries of Alberta Avenue.

“I like the idea of helping shape the neighbourhood. I’m very community and family based. I feel more people would be open to infill if there were nice-looking homes. I want to take people’s concerns and take those concerns to the building and development office of the City and be the squeaky wheel.”

Featured Image: Melanie Anderson will be looking at incoming permit applications within the boundaries of Alberta Avenue. | Talea Medynski