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The Third Ring: Calgary’s outer ‘burbs are densifying faster than the inner city

The head of the organization that represents developers in Calgary says an important fact about density is being lost in the debate over new communities at the edge of the city.

Guy Huntingford, the CEO of BILD Calgary, said some of Calgary’s densest communities outside the core are at the edge of the city.

He calls it the third ring.

“Those new communities that came after (the 2009 Municipal Development Plan) are probably some of the densest in the city,” said Huntingford. “They follow a bunch of new policy and guidelines that have created walkable communities, and communities where there’s the ability to live, work and play.”

Huntingford said there are really three rings of community styles around Calgary’s downtown core, beginning with communities from the 1940s through the 1960s, which are seeing a rebirth with infill development and other added density.

The the second ring is made up of communities build between the 1970s until the early 2000s. These are the sprawling suburbs that are often seen as unfriendly to pedestrians, and lacking in amenities.

“People forget the reason those communities were built with with so little density is because they were mandated that way,” said Huntingford.

“And then in 2009 we all got smart and figured out under the new municipal development plan, we needed to allow more density where it made sense.”

He said new communities like Seton and Mahogany are built according to the new Municipal Development Plan, which has more stringent density requirements. They’re required to initially be built with a minimum intensity of 60 people and jobs per developable hectare, with the ability to reach 70 people and jobs per hectare with future renewal and intensification.

As city council debates its four-year budget this week, there has been discussion about plans to raise tax rates 2.15 per cent to go towards growth costs in new and developing communities, including 14 new communities approved by council in July.

Residents in some inner city communities raised the alarm about potential funding cuts to the Main Streets program, which was meant to help inner city communities redevelop to meet new density targets, and receive new amenities for accepting that density.

A pending amendment by Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra could see that remedied, if approved by council.

Huntingford noted that the 14 new communities council approved in July will all be built to new standards with increased density.

“All those communities that are approved all follow those guidelines. You can’t get your outline approved if you can’t meet those density targets.”

Part of the city’s plan to develop the inner city revolves around the savings that are realized by utilizing existing infrastructure. Adding units to existing communities saves on the costs of building new fire halls, roads and recreation centres.

But Huntingford said the new communities are now being built in such a way that they can use existing amenities such as fire stations until the tax base and population size warrants the creation of new amenities.

“Dropping a fire hall in the middle of a greenfield and having the community built around it doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

Coun. Shane Keating is himself a resident of Seton – one of the new communities Huntingford noted as a third-ring community.

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He said many of the inner city communities won’t reach the density

“We have to look after the established areas, there’s no question,” said Keating. “But let’s not go down the road that they are far and above the new communities that are being developed.”

He noted that around his home in Seton, there are more than 2,000 units in a very short distance, thanks to the mix of condominiums and townhouses.

Huntingford said it can’t be an inner-city versus suburbs debate when it comes to growing Calgary. He said adding density to the inner city alone can’t handle the annual net increase of people moving to Calgary.

“It’s important that we have development and redevelopment all over the city,” he said.

“You can’t redevelop fast enough for the number of people coming. You’re still going to need new communities because the bulk of the people still need a place to live and Calgary’s still growing.”