Having a thoughtful conversation about development in our neighbourhood - watch Gian-Carlo's take on The Grid.
I wanted to start a conversation with neighbours in Inglewood about the proposed 22-story “Grid” development. While this specific development impacts Inglewood primarily, the exercise and thought process surrounding planning and development is also a conversation every community and community association that is experiencing development pressure should have about how to approach these propositions.
Background and Context
When I was first approached by B & A Planning Group about their proposal to develop a 22-storey building in Inglewood, like many of my neighbours in the community, my initial impression was one of surprise (if you have not received their pamphlet, you can see it here). I decided to walk the proposed site at the corner of Blackfoot Trail SE and 19 Street SE, the former gas station (which has been remediated) to get a better sense of things in scale. The site is located at the eastern gateway to the community, across from the Blackfoot Truck Stop lands, south of the SoBo development and adjacent to the future Southeast 17 Avenue SE Bus Rapid Transit bridge.
In conjunction with the amazing reinvestment we're about to make on Inglewood's main street through the delivery of the 9 Avenue SE Streetscape Master Plan, we are well into construction on an amazing piece of reinvestment in the amount of $80 million dollars on International Avenue - 17 Avenue South East – one of East Calgary’s amazing main streets. In July 2016, The City obtained another $80 million dollars from the federal government to connect the work being done on International Avenue to Inglewood through the incredible multi-use transit bridge.
The transit bridge will come down the escarpment and will span the entire irrigation canal, Deerfoot Trail and the Bow River. It will follow along the former baseball diamond and terminate at the Blackfoot Truck Stop. Not only is that an amazing transit route that will remove Calgary Transit vehicles out of traffic (and eventually carry an LRT spur line off of the Green Line) but it's also going to include a high quality, amazing multi-use pathway and for the first time ever, cyclists and pedestrians are finally going to be safely, conveniently, and spectacularly connected from Inglewood up to the amazing communities of Greater Forest Lawn.
The ‘Donut Hole’ in Inglewood
The community of Inglewood began advocating for this reinvestment into the community back in 2003 and 2004. Additionally, we have been advocating for the redevelopment of the Blackfoot Truck Stop lands, since that time, arguing that what we as a community have is a whole in the middle of our community in need of urban development.
Many residents in the community of Inglewood don’t know that there is a deep history of these vacant lands at the eastern gateway to Calgary’s inner city. This part of the community is a former employment zone – the former employment zone for Inglewood. This area used to be where a massive number of Inglewood residents were employed in steel foundries, in warehouses, in lumber yards and in market gardens. Inglewood residents would walk to this central area for work. When the railroad no longer became the primary transportation mode of choice and the City of Calgary ran a freeway through the community, the classic 1960's “tail of a dragon” scenario ensued with the Blackfoot Trail sterilizing this part of the community for development, leaving this empty hole in Inglewood and showing the failings of poor urban planning.
Since 2003, the Inglewood Community Association - through my leadership - has been advocating that this central area should be a ‘mini-downtown’ for our community; it should fulfill its historic place in the story of Inglewood as an employment centre while encouraging the case, through increased use and density, of bringing the modern conveniences of amenities, like a grocery store to Inglewood, creating one of the major hearts of the urban village that is Inglewood.
We've been very successful in the last seven years. With the massive reinvestment in East Calgary, and funding for policy plans like the 9 Avenue Streetscape Master Plan and the new Inglewood Area Redevelopment Plan, among other things, we now have the market responding to the work converging on this area.
This project is certainly more intense than anything that I would have anticipated.
Mischaracterizing the Process
Unfortunately, some of my neighbours in Inglewood have been suggesting that I'm 100% for this project, and that the community is having conversations regarding gearing up to fight the project.
First off, let's not be hasty. Second, I am neither for or against this project and any characterization of my position that contradicts that is false. Recently, it came to my attention that members of the Inglewood Community Association indicated that they were informed by the developer that I had given them my full-throated support for this project. When I reached out to the developers, they denied ever having indicated that.
I am one fifteenth of the decision as to whether something like this takes place. What we need to do right now is that Inglewood residents need to have good thoughtful conversations about this development and its planning merits or lack thereof, refine the points for and/or against this project and be prepared to discuss those ideas with their neighbours, myself, and in front of City Council at the Public Hearing of Council.
The process for this land use change, like any other land use change that has proceeded before it, has not changed.
- Consultation and engagement with the community by the developers and/or their agents;
- Consultation with City Administration with recommendation to approve or refuse the land use application;
- Hearing at Calgary Planning Commission and approval or refusal of City Administration recommendation; and
- Public Hearing at City Council
City Council will be weighing in on this land use application at the Public Hearing stage. At this Public Hearing, City Council will get the opportunity to hear from everybody – proponents and opponents alike. Until that time, I'm not legally able to make a decision until that point. Obviously, my advocacy for the area will help shape Council’s decision, and my advocacy will be based on the planning merits of this proposal and weighing its benefits and its challenges with respect to city policy, the developers position, and community desires and aspirations within the context of creating a win-win-win scenario if possible.
Planning Merit – What Does That Mean?
It’s really important that we realize that this is a proposition to put density in a transit oriented development area that the community of Inglewood has been advocating for, for a very long time, and it’s important to take the merit of the plan into account. Failing to do that and not asking the right questions can be a recipe for disaster. We need to ensure we follow the best principles of community planning possible.
What are some of the questions that should be asked and answered within a community context? Here are some of the questions City Council will be asking presenters at the Public Hearing as an example:
- Is this the right amount of density for the area in question?
- What are some of the potential benefits? What are its challenges?
- Is it well deployed?
- Does this project adhere to the principles set out in the Municipal Development Plan and Calgary Transportation Plan? If yes, which sections? If not, where?
- Does this project adhere to the principles set out in the current Inglewood Area Redevelopment Plan and draft Inglewood Area Redevelopment Plan? Does it jive with the principles set out in the Inglewood Design Initiative?
- Which City policies take primacy over others in making this land use application decision?
- What does the community of Inglewood get in return for this project, if successful? What would any possible community benefits package be?
It is important to answer these and other appropriate and thoughtful questions prior to the Public Hearing of Council, and I am more than willing to meet with residents of Inglewood to have these conversations in a congenial way.
When I went to city hall seven years ago, it was to achieve everything we're in the process of achieving right now. It was always known that as a community association, we had very little power, but we had a lot of influence, but only if we came to the table with the developer and The City very thoughtfully.
What I've seen over the last few years is a real devolution from that thoughtfulness that we had developed 10 years prior. I really want to encourage everyone to sit down and think about the community’s best future; to think about everything that we've been working to achieve, where we're at in that process, and how to make sure that every process and every project that comes to the table contributes to that best future.
The community of Inglewood is in the middle of our local area planning process. These are exactly the kinds of conversations we should be having right now. What I want each and every Inglewood resident, institution and business to do is to challenge each other, to challenge me and to have thoughtful conversations.
As always, I encourage community members – residents, businesses and other Inglewood institutions – to reach out to me.
Information from B&A Planning Group for the community
B&A Planning Groups proposed time line
B&A Planning Group contact
Community Engagement Representative