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Collision course: Inglewood development tests city’s heritage, density desires

Inglewood’s main strip, 9 Avenue SE, was once Calgary’s main street, as the slew of old, brick properties from the turn of the last century attest.

But three land-use change applications on the community’s main strip, 9 Avenue SE, have some residents up in arms and speaking out through a campaign called Save 9th Avenue.

Leslie Robertson, director of inner-city planning and heritage for the Inglewood Community Association (ICA), said they’ve been fighting against changes that would affect the character of the neighbourhood for years.

“In 2014, Inglewood was named the best community in Canada, which is the worst bloody thing that ever happened to us, arguably,” she said.

Robertson believes this level of attention on the community brought with it development pressure. This pressure has translated into proposals for rezoning height restrictions to around twice the existing bylaw limits, from roughly six to 12 storeys. In addition, the modern structures of glass and steel the ICA believes would clash with current buildings.

Those changes, Robertson said, would dwarf pedestrians and affect the character of Inglewood permanently.

“The tragedy with rezoning is you can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” she said.

“It’s something that we’re extremely worried about because we really feel that it would be the death knell for our heritage district.”

This heritage character is one she believes provides a “mental edge” to business in the community, which has a “brand built on heritage.”

Of the three proposals that concern the ICA, the 12 storey, mixed-use building known as RNDSQR Block on 9 Avenue and 12 Street SE, is the most pressing concern.

On July 27, City Council will consider a zoning change that would allow the proposal to move forward. The other proposals on 9 Avenue SE are for a 50 metre mixed-use residential complex at 11 Street and a 10-storey, mixed-use residential building at 8 Street SE, tentatively approved by the City in December.

The density is necessary for the Green Line, Coun. Carra says

Gian-Carlo Carra, the councillor for Ward 9, which includes Inglewood, said he’s been paying close attention to both sides of the argument, and that those in favour seem stronger than those against.

First, the City has made massive public sector investments into the community with the intent of not only improving it, but also promoting private sector reinvestment in the areas. This investment goes hand-in-hand with the need to accommodate more Calgarians in the area.

Carra said this increase in density is necessary for the future Green Line, which will have a stop in the neighbourhood,  to be worthwhile.

The old CIBC Building will be protected and upgrade as part of the RNDSQR Block proposal. RNDSQR VISION BRIEF

 The RNDSQR proposal also respects the character of the area, he said, as it comes with a heritage designation for the neighbouring CIBC building, which is currently unprotected. The proposal will not only integrate this building, but will front onto multiple streets while providing ground floor retail, tech office and boutique hotel spaces to the neighbourhood. But his concern goes beyond a missed investment opportunity.

“For the first time in 20 years, I’m not 100 percent confident that if we don’t move forward something else will come along,” says Carra.

“And I’m very concerned that we’re at a crossroads, where we will ride and continue to build on our amazing strength or where we descend into seething nostalgic Rust Belted irrelevance.”

Independent review of the projects

In an effort to form a more objective opinion on the proposal, the Inglewood Business Improvement Area (BIA), an organization of local stakeholders with the goal of attracting customers to the neighbourhood, commissioned a study from Toronto-based urban planning consultancy, Urban Strategies.

Though the final report is due in August, an interim report assessed the impact of 12-storey buildings on 9 Avenue SE, as supported by the draft area redevelopment plan, concluded that, among other things, “[t]here is no clear and compelling urban design rationale to permit 12-storey buildings on 9th Avenue SE, and such buildings would have significant adverse impacts on the character and pedestrian experience of 9th Avenue SE and on nearby properties, including a historic open space.”

The BIA has adopted this as its official position and is now opposed to the RNDSQR proposal.

The ICA and BIA are far from alone in their opposition to the new buildings proposed for Inglewood. One change.org petition opposing the “destruction of Calgary’s Heritage Main Street” has amassed more than 27,000 signature since December.

‘it’s easy to take five seconds to sign a petition’

David White is a principal with CivicWorks, a planning consulting practice for private land development that has been working with RNDSQR on the proposal. He believes there’s more to the conversation than things like the petition suggest.

“That’s the conversation we’ve been having with some stakeholders. And certainly, it’s easy to take five seconds to sign a petition, but it takes a little more time to really begin to look at the package here,” he said.

“Not only are we protecting heritage but we’re really making a big investment at this key intersection and starting to build the kind of main street environment that the City themselves has a master streetscape plan for but hasn’t yet been able to fund.”

White said that, as part of the rezoning, allowing a building height of 12 storeys, RNDSQR would move forward with a legal designation to protect the nearby CIBC bank building as a heritage building.

This would require the building to remain in its current, legally agreed-upon state in perpetuity and a “significant capital injection” to bring it up to modern building code standards. The proposal also includes plans for a new public plaza on the land off of 9 Avenue adjacent to the bank, as well as an integrated, all-season bus stop within the new building.

The plans are meant to emphasize the area’s heritage qualities

CivicWorks has also worked with the community lawn bowling club on 12 Street SE, north of the proposed building. They’re worried that the building would partially block the sun needed for their lawn. To offset the shadow impact of RNDSQR Block, RNDSQR will be financially supporting the club in changing from real to synthetic grass.

Taken as a complete package, White said, “it’s a very attractive piece of city building.” He also said the hundreds of millions of dollars the City has invested in the community, from the Max BRT to the new Green Line LRT to come to three new bridges, among others, is not commensurate with the level of growth and change that would justify those investments.

On the question of Inglewood’s character, White said the style of RNDSQR Block is meant to emphasize the heritage property in a similar fashion to what the National Music Centre does with the St. Louis Hotel, and that contrast is best practice for such developments.

“What we’re trying to do here is talk to quality, talk to reinvestment in the kind of materials and the type of construction that will stand the test of time,” White said.