Calgary city councillors have approved a controversial development planned for one of Calgary’s oldest neighbourhoods.
After much debate, council voted 13-1 in favour of a land-use bylaw amendment to the Inglewood Area Redevelopmnet plan, allowing the mixed-use building known as RNDSQR Block to take a step forward.
Coun. Jeromy Farkas was opposed to the second reading, meaning the matter will have a third reading at the next city council meeting. It needs unanimous consent to go to third reading.
The presentations and debate spanned several hours Monday, with the crux of the conversation around the height of the building and heritage preservation.
The community of Inglewood has a rich history dating back to the late 1800s. It’s also been named one of the top neighbourhoods in Canada.
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 in an earlier LiveWire Calgary piece.
There are currently three proposed changes to the community. They include 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 and the most pressing, a 12 storey, mixed-use building known as RNDSQR Block on 9 Avenue and 12 Street SE.
The opposition was vocal
The 12-storey mixed-use residential building has caused debate among Calgarians.
One change.org petition opposing the “destruction of Calgary’s Heritage Main Street” has amassed more than 27,000 signature since December.
The largest issue of concern is the height of the new building. Not only will it be larger than any other buildings in Inglewood, but it also affects its neighbours.
David White, professional urban planner and the principal of CivicWorks, who is consulting for RNDSQR, said that the company has had many discussions with its closest neighbour – the lawn bowling club.
The city, along with CivicWorks, have come to an agreement and will make an investment of $400,000 to construct a new synthetic turf for the club as it will be impacted by shadowing.
City Councillor Peter Demong questioned why the proposal for the 12-storey building included two floors of office space. He said the downtown core is currently facing massive vacancy.
“Why would we as the council approve two floors of office space when you’re just several blocks away from dozens of vacant office spaces,” said Demong.
White said the office space is not meant to replace the downtown work offices. It’s meant to highlight the business and homeowners of Inglewood.
“There’s a mix of uses, vibrancy and a character that is attractive for folks to not just operate businesses but to see the folks that make up that business, be able to live and make other investments in the neighbourhood,” said White.
‘Why’s it got to be so tall?’
Mayor Naheed Nenshi questioned whether the height was necessary.
“I can totally get my head around density bonusing. I can get my head around the preservation of the other building and doing something interesting and unique and not following the architecture of the street,” said Nenshi.
“All of that I can get my head around, but why’s it got to be so tall?”
White said that with such a large investment must come great scale.
City councillor Gian-Carlo Carra said his main focus is maintaining Inglewood’s history.
“For me, the tangible decision that we make here is a decision about heritage,” said Carra.
“There is no heritage building in the community that’s 20 meters. That’s six storeys and without mechanisms to protect the heritage. I’m very concerned about it.”
Dan Allard, board chair of the Inglewood BIA, said they didn’t support the proposal.
“The BIA is opposed to this project as it will have significant adverse impacts on the character and pedestrian experience of the street and on neighbouring properties,” said Allard.
The development would mean big changes for the community
Allard’s main concern with the proposed building design. It’s set to become the tallest building in the community.
The RNDSQR Block building will be built surrounding the old CIBC Building, which is two storeys.
The proposed space nearly doubles that of the closest building height.
Councillor Evan Woolley said he understands that adding a 12-storey building will change the landscape of Inglewood. He doesn’t necessarily see that as a bad thing.
“I thought the BIA’s role was to support more boots on the ground for the neighborhoods. And wouldn’t more people, meaning taller heights, mean more people to support the businesses,” asked Woolley.
“I’m really having a hard time where that growth is going to happen, where we’re gonna get the money for those investments if we’re not going to see the growth that pays for it.”
Several community members and business owners spoke at Monday’s public hearing. They asked council members to leave Inglewood the way it is.
Many people said the RNDSQR Block building would destroy the historic architecture of the community.
Councillor Carra said he believes Inglewood is strong enough to survive any decision.
“I believe that if we vote yes, or if we vote no, it won’t destroy the neighbourhood. I think the neighbourhood will be fine,” said Carra.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that there were no other buildings above six stories in Inglewood. As a commenter below points out, there is one new development that is seven stories. The article has been updated.