For the past 10 years, the Westbrook LRT station site has sat vacant.
There’s hope that a massive redevelopment could take shape next year as the city’s economy gets back on track, and the Westbrook Communities Local Area Plan provides some planning certainty.
During the recent public hearing on the Westbrook Communities Local Area Plan (LAP), Wildwood residents dominated the conversation.
While this group mobilized to lobby for more time to review the document, one subject that didn’t come up publicly, but is very common throughout the city’s engagement process, is the Westbrook LRT site.
There is an underground station plunked in the middle of an otherwise vacant lot at the corner of 17 Avenue and 33 Street SW where Rosscarrock meets Killarney.
In the city’s What We Heard engagement documents, there are regular verbatim mentions of the Westbrook LRT site. Many talking about safety in the area due to lack of development.
“’Westbrook lrt as a focal point’ this is a gathering point for homeless or undesirable people. The coffee shop that was in there had to close because people would not come in because it felt unsafe,” wrote one person.
“Create a safer environment at LRT Station by having security on-site 24-7,” wrote another.
“Focus only on the area directly surrounding Westbrook Station,” read another verbatim response.
“Do something with the space around westbrook station. picnic tables, playground? it’s a wasteland [sic],” was another.
In the Oct. 5, 2022 What We Heard Report – Phase 3: REFINE, ‘Westbrook LRT’ is mentioned independently about 40 times in their 228 page report.
The term ‘Westbrook station’ is used another 40 times in the document.
It’s connection to the Westbrook Communities LAP is obvious. It’s one of the focal points for density development. It’s smack dab in the middle of the Westbrook LAP area.
Many people have suggested this is where density should begin before spreading it into their single-family neighbourhoods.
Simply put, the question for many in the area is: What’s happening with that site?
History of the site
The Westbrook LRT station is on the land formerly occupied by Ernest Manning High School and the adjacent playing fields.
The site was required for the station and the underground portion of the West LRT line. Ernest Manning was relocated further west and when the station area was complete, the land around it became surplus to the city.
In late 2011, the city invited requests for proposals on the acquisition and development of this 10-acre parcel of land. It was to be a part of the larger proposed Westbrook Village redevelopment that would cover the surrounding 52 acres.
After the proposals were evaluated, the vacant area was sold to Calgary’s Matco Development Corp in 2016.
“Matco’s proven ability to create and execute a redevelopment of this site made it the best candidate to support the City’s long-term Transit Orientated Development project at Westbrook Station. Matco demonstrated all the elements outlined in the RFP and The City’s vision for the Westbrook Village area,” read a statement from Sarah Quayle, then-manager of real estate sales and marketing with the city.
The plot is made up of three different parcels: 1.5, 3.2 and 4.6 acres, respectively.
The area has stayed relatively dormant since that time. Though, according to City of Calgary senior planner, Peter Schryvers, a development permit had already been approved in years prior. According to a CBC story from 2018, Matco planned a mixed-use development for the area. But development permits lapse after two or three years, depending on the land use.
“Since that time, there hasn’t been any more applications,” Schryvers said.
Concerns about crime at Westbrook LRT
According to the City of Calgary’s community crime and disorder map, in 2012, the community of Rosscarrock, where the station is located logged 476 recorded incidents. By 2019, that number had risen to 677. In 2021 it had jumped to 1,005, but so far in 2022 there have been 611 reports.
From this data, however, you can’t pinpoint if the incidents are related to the Westbrook LRT Station, nor the vacant lands.
Many of the comments in the Westbrook LAP What We Heard reports raised the issue of social disorder problems around the station.
“Before any development should happen we should address the pressing issues first. Crime, mental health and homeless are beginning to effect our every day lives. Just yesterday we saw a man actively using a pipe, in broad daylight, less than a block from a daycare. [sic]”
Other comments are less diplomatic about the problems around the station.
We spoke with Matco at length about this location in October.
They said they were aware of their security responsibility in that area. Fences have been put up and they said they regularly bring in private junk removal teams to deal with refuse. They’ve also involved a private security company to work with transit and the Calgary police.
What’s next for the location?
When we spoke with Matco, they said they weren’t ready to speak in detail about an upcoming phased development. They do expect a development permit application to come forward in 2023.
They did say, as they have since they purchased the land, that they’re committed to producing a high-quality, mixed-use development in the area. They did describe in some detail challenges around the economy, a pandemic-influenced stop to migration, and other macro-economic factors behind the delay.
Schryvers surmised the economic factors may have played a role, but also said that the former Westbrook Village ARP might have limited potential development.
“It was very specific policy and maybe a little bit too prescriptive for these areas,” he said. Schryvers noted that it dictated specifics like building heights and building layouts.
He said they’ve streamlined the land-use policy in the area.
“We wanted to just make that a little bit more simple and a little bit more straightforward for the developers,” Schryvers said.
The Westbrook LAP has the Westbrook Station marked as a Community Activity Centre. The building scale for the area goes from low-rise (up to six storeys) across the surrounding roads, to as much as 26 storeys in the north central portion. It is by far the densest area in the plan.
“We really have policies, not only to kind of streamline development policy for that site itself, but also just the area in general to really try to encourage more growth in this area and really try to kind of recover kind of lost populations in a lot of these communities,” Schryvers said.
The Westbrook Communities LAP was recommended for first reading at a recent city council committee meeting. It will come back in January, to a full meeting of city council, for approval.