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Calgary artist worries six-storey development will force him out of his neighbourhood

Nine years ago, Mark Vazquez-Mackay bought a home that was set to be demolished and he brought it back to life – but now he’s concerned about the proposed six-storey development that could go up next door.

Vazquez-Mackay said his home – a one-and-a-half storey building from 1910 – was one of the originals built in the community of Riverside.

“We bought it as a foreclosure,” he said. “We bought it on the market as land value only.”

That was all part of the plan. Vazquez-Mackay is an artist, but he had supplemented his income in the past doing labour work for contractors. He knew with some sweat equity, he could bring the home back from the brink, and that’s exactly what he and his wife did.

“I re-roofed the whole roof myself,” he said. “We recovered the original 1910 floors. We refinished all those – it’s got the original plank floors.”

As other original homes from the neighborhood were demolished, he was able to salvage doors and other period materials to cut down the cost of his restoration.

“We always had people tell us don’t invest too much because one day someone is going to buy you out, or you’ll be forced out of there.”

Now restored and decorated with his art collection, the cozy home has plenty of character and charm.

Vazquez-Mackay said one of the reasons the property was more affordable was the ‘orphaned’ garage that no longer had alley access. While a turnoff for most buyers, it was perfect for his purposes, because he wanted the space as an art studio.

He brought the front yard to life with a mural on his fence of two eyes. He said people were driving through the neighborhood much too fast, and he wanted a traffic-calming measure.

Vazquez-Mackay’s home has the original plank floors and is filled with artwork and antiques. BRODIE THOMAS / LIVEWIRE

“Rather than going out on the street and sort of yelling at everyone to slow down, I thought what’s a creative solution?”

He said studies have shown that people adjust their actions when they think they’re being watched, and even pictures of eyes can have that effect.

His mural worked, in part because people slow down for a closer look. They sometimes even stop for photos.

While he knew much of the community would see larger structures built, Vazquez-Mackay was not prepared for what is currently being planned for next door – a six-storey development being designed by local architectural firm MT Arch.

He said the developers did approach him about buying out his house, but the value was much less than what he had it appraised at, and the amount would have forced him and his family to move out of the neighbourhood altogether.

The head of MT Arch, Max Tayefi, said the image that is on the firm’s website right now is simply a early concept for illustrative purposes. Right now they’re in talks with the city, the community and neighbours such as Vazquez-Mackay

This rendering is a preliminary concept created by MT Arch so residents can get a feel for how the building might fit into the neighbourhood. COURTESY MT ARCH

He said they’re still at the high level of trying to decide what would be the best product to build on the lot, and that they’ll arrive at that decision after talking to the city, the community association, and local residents.

Tayefi said increasing density is one of the general policies of the inner city, but that doesn’t mean it can be done without forethought.

“We think any densification has to be dealt with very sensitively – case-by-case,” he said.

He said they’re looking at options such as having some ground level retail –something like a corner store, angled parking, and benches where people in the community can gather.

Ward 9 Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra said he’s sympathetic to Vazquez-Mackay’s concerns.

“Especially because he did such a nice job of taking an old house and lovingly restoring it,” said Carra.

He said the tension between heritage and density is a common one in his ward, and there are rarely easy solutions to the conflicts that arise.

“You have people who are doubling and tripling down on these original structures, and other people are knocking them down and putting in big things,” he said.

“It’s charming when you have different things playing together nicely in the sandbox.”

He noted that in this particular community, there is a missing middle density, and a corresponding price point.

A condo starts at about $300,000, while a single family home is over $1 million.

“There a million dollars of buying power that’s between those two things that’s actually missing from the market.”

Vazquez-Mackay said he’s not against development in general, and it’s not even the fact that it’s next door. For him the biggest problem is the potential for sheer height next to his yard, which will block most of the afternoon light.

He said a better option would be to have the building stepped back where it abuts his property.

The neighborhood already has many three-storey buildings, but he worries that a further doubling of that is too much, too fast.

“We’ll still live here,” he said. “The point for me – you have to develop at a certain speed for your context. I think you have to be considerate.”