This article also appears in the January 2020 edition of Bridges, the official BRCA newsletter, on pages 6 - 8. You can read the newsletter here.
For the past two years, the City of Calgary has been working on a new plan to guide development in Bridgeland. Many of you have provided the City with input on the characteristics that make this community great and on the current and future needs of Bridgeland. The City produced a number of “What We Heard” reports which were to inform the development of a new local area plan (called an Area Redevelopment Plan or ARP) for Bridgeland.
What you likely do not know is that the City recently decided to do something entirely different. Based on the City’s most recent presentations, this unexpected change of direction will, in our view, almost universally disregard the community input provided over the last two years and cause increased localized issues that the City does not yet have a plan to deal with.
We want to bring you up to speed on the very important and complex issues that will fundamentally impact you and our community for decades to come. We have broken this information into six sections:
Editor's note: This is a lengthy article because the issue is complex.
Basically, the entire planning system in Calgary is changing dramatically and it will impact you!
Development in Bridgeland is regulated by (a) the Municipal Development Plan (MDP) (the highest level, overarching citywide document); (b) the ARP; and (c) the City of Calgary Land Use Bylaw. Our ARP dates back to 1980 and is frequently referred to as “outdated” by the City. Accordingly, we advocated to have it updated and began working with the City on this in 2017. Part way through the process, the City decided it needed a mid-level planning document between the MDP and the ARP and created the Developed Areas Guidebook in 2017. This document was intended to contain the “best practices” planning policies and it created new categories of land use to apply to certain areas within communities e.g. “low density residential” or “mixed use commercial”. The last version of the draft Bridgeland ARP the City engaged with residents on (in June 2019) is based on the Developed Areas Guidebook. That draft can be found at this link. https://s3.ca-central-1.amazonaws.com/ hdp.ca.prod.app.cgy-engage.files/4715/2995/7488/ BR_ARP_Draft_June_23_2018.pdf.
2. What the City has Changed
The City has now decided it cannot keep up the pace of renewing ARPs for each of Calgary’s 250 communities and will only do multi-community (district) plans moving forward. The City also made major changes to the Developed Areas Guidebook and created the Guidebook for Great Communities to replace it. Because Bridgeland-Riverside had done so much work on our ARP, we were told that we would continue with a stand-alone plan without being forced into a district plan. However, that changed in October 2019, when the City informed us Bridgeland would be amalgamated into the North Hill District Plan and development would be governed by the new Guidebook.
3. What We Are Losing by This Change
We were open to this change until we saw the draft North Hill District Plan, which watered down or removed most of the important local input we had provided to the City to date. This gives rise to a number of specific areas of concern.
a) Lack of Heritage Policy: The heritage language we had drafted was removed from the draft new ARP and the heritage tools were removed from the new Guidebook for Great Communities. This means any heritage we have is not protected unless people individually designate their properties as heritage properties. The City says it will be working on new heritage tools in 2020 and beyond. In our view, this work needs to be completed first before a development plan is implemented.
b) Local context has been watered down under the new district plans: For example, our ARP had policy that spoke directly to Bridgeland having escarpments, which are critical to the feel and design of the neighbourhood, with specific policies on how escarpments would be protected and built upon. This is not recognized in the North Hill draft ARP which contains only a generalized statement that says North Hill District has several escarpments within its boundaries. This is only one example of important content that was reduced.
c) Bridgeland Character Areas were removed: Our ARP was based on “character areas” of Bridgeland as shown in the below map. We believe each of these areas is special and needs unique policies to guide growth and retain the desired feel of each area. This has been removed entirely from the new plan. The new plan does not describe how Bridgeland is different from other neighbourhoods within the district plan such as Renfrew, Tuxedo or Highland Park. Each of these communities has different characteristics generally, let alone unique areas within each community.
d) Significant increase in height/scale with no supporting policy: The new Guidebook for Great Communities has increased the scale/height of each building block. The low-density district has changed to include many building forms up to 3 stories and the next zone up has increased to allow buildings up to 6 stories. 3-storey buildings in multiple forms – apartment, row house, semi-detached and single-family will be allowed in the bowl/low density residential areas and not just on busier streets or in pre-determined areas. However, the rules for “low density district” are not yet written, so there are no regulations as to how these would fit into the existing context. The City wants to apply this low-density district as a blanket land use, but it will not begin writing the new zoning rules until 2021, which will be after the North Hill District Plan and the Guidebook have been approved.
e) No density bonusing or financial tools to fund the list of community projects. There is no mechanism to fund any of the listed “wish list” items in the draft plan other than through regular city budgets.
f) Lack of engagement – Residents were not engaged or informed of the implications to their properties of these changes. Most people don’t know what the new “Guidebook for Great Communities” is and it is not easy to understand for non-planners. Furthermore, the City hopes to write an entirely new land use bylaw around it. Basically, the entire planning system in Calgary is changing dramatically and it will impact you! The only engagement local residents have had was under a completely different framework, one that focused upon identifying local character areas, local concepts for development, and local growth goals All of these are disregarded in the proposed new plan. Further, our community has not been engaged in any North Hill District planning at all.
g) This is not being implemented City-wide – North Hill District Plan is the pilot. This could put added development pressure on our community while other communities refuse change and Bridgeland adds density with no financial benefit to the community in return.
h) East Riverside Master Plan is not included: Years of work on the East Riverside Master Plan with the East Riverside Stakeholder Committee are effectively now being thrown away. Bringing together 4 large stakeholders, with roughly 26 acres of prime, developable land in the inner city, was a massive undertaking but it was successfully accomplished at our instigation. If this plan was built out, it would actually affect the City’s density targets.
i) The City’s new system has not been tested against development applications. The Guidebook has not been tested sufficiently against other non-pilot contexts or against current and anticipated development permits. We have already found concerns arising in BridgelandRiverside with some of the Guidebook elements (e.g. the new AHS development). There will likely be more. The Guidebook must be tested in several districts BEFORE its implementation, since changes to the Guidebook will have a trickle-down effect and will impact all communities.
4. Outstanding Questions
Hillhurst-Sunnyside is not included in the North Hill District Plan, yet that community is more closely aligned in many ways with our community’s pressures and needs than any other community within the proposed District Plan. Similarly, Bridgeland-Riverside is more aligned with both Hillhurst-Sunnyside and with Inglewood than it is with any of the communities that are outside the core walking zone. What is the rationale to include Bridgeland in the North Hill Plan, but not these other communities? What is the rationale for a delayed timeline for Inglewood, and for not considering Inglewood for the pilot for the Guidebook?
5. Where We Stand Now
The BRCA Board sent a letter to the City expressing opposition to adding Bridgeland as an afterthought into the North Hill District. Members of the Community Advisory Group who worked on the ARP for the past two years wrote a similar letter. In response, the City reconsidered and said it will no longer add Bridgeland into North Hill at this time. The City has also put our ARP on “pause” until these City-wide plans for financial tools, heritage and the low-density district rules are figured out. However, the way forward is uncertain. The group of local residents who have been working on this intimately for the past three years do not believe there is a good plan for our community that we can get behind at this time that accurately represents the community’s interests. We do not support approval of the Guidebook for Great Communities without heritage tools, financial tools or a low-density district policy being written first. We hope there will be changes moving forward that will give us a solid ARP. In the meantime, Bridgeland residents should be aware the changes coming are significant and could impact you. Please inform yourself about what can change around you.
6. What You Can Do
b) Write or call city council members. Write to all City Councillors expressing your desire to have local area plans continue to reflect the LOCAL context, to have enough teeth to protect what residents love about their communities including heritage and parks, and to accurately address the community feedback that has been given. Our Councillor can be contacted at Ward09@calgary.ca
c) Join or contact the BRCA planning committee at email@example.com or find more info on our website about upcoming meetings, etc.
d) Attend the BRCA Town Hall Meeting on this topic on February 3 at the BRCA Community Hall from 7:00 to 8:00 pm to learn more.