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Heritage Local Area Plan is the latest to face stiff Calgary established community test

By mid-February, a community campaign had garnered roughly 50 per cent support for a restrictive covenant.

It hadn’t happened as quickly as they wanted, but Guy Buchanan figured as the public hearing on the Heritage Local Area Plan drew nearer, they’d get more support for restrictive covenants in the area.

According to a social media post from Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner, the Heritage Local Area Plan (LAP) is now scheduled to appear at the April 5 Infrastructure and Planning Committee meeting.

The Heritage LAP is comprised of the communities of Eagle Ridge, Kelvin Grove, Kingsland, Fairview, Haysboro, Acadian, Southwood, Willow Park, Maple Ridge and Chinook Park.

Back in November 2022, the southwest Calgary communities of Eagle Ridge, Kelvin Grove and Chinook Park began a quest to prevent densification in their areas through the use of a restrictive covenant. The restrictive covenant could prevent any other development aside from single-family homes in the prescribed area.

When LWC talked with Buchanan back in February, the campaign had garnered more than 50 per cent. Their goal was roughly 90 per cent of property owners for it to work.

“We’ve got some time, I had hoped it would happen sooner, but the reality is standing in for a lot of people that ‘hey, this, this is coming out, some of what this group is telling us is happening to us,” Buchanan, one of the campaign’s organizers and a member with the Chinook Park, Kelvin Grove and Eagle Ridge Community Association (CKE), told LiveWire Calgary in February.

At issue is the application of a Neighbourhood Local designation (local area planning guide language) that clarifies building scale of up to three storeys and three or more residential units on portions of these communities.

Some refer to it as blanket rezoning as it applies this designation to wide areas. It must be noted, however, that under current planning regulations, these unit types are already allowed, but are approved on an ad-hoc basis.

Eagle Ridge, Chinook Park and Kelvin Grove (top left corner communities) have neighbourhood local throughout, with a modest amount of neighbourhood connector along main routes. HERITAGE LOCAL AREA PLAN – AS OF JAN. 2023.

Restrictive covenants for the area

Buchanan said they want to be able to protect the single-family detached neighbourhoods in the area. They’re willing to do this through the use of a restrictive covenant.

In layman’s terms, a restrictive covenant is registered against the title of a property in Alberta. It’s an agreement among property owners in an area that dictates the use and development of those properties. A restrictive covenant binds the current and future landowner to the covenant. It can be for almost anything – from home colour to fencing type, and the number of homes per lot.

Some restrictive covenants include an expiry, others don’t.

According to the Kahane Law Offices website, removing a covenant can be difficult because any change applies to all the properties on the document. If any change or removal is requested, all owners must participate. They said it typically requires a court appearance.

Buchanan said a professional survey showed 80 per cent of the people they reached desired to protect the community’s single detached homes.

“That wasn’t my opinion, I don’t have to agree with it, but it just it validated what I saw; it would be what the majority, the vast majority, turns out wanted for our community,” he said.

Not everyone does, however.

One Eagle Ridge resident that spoke to LiveWire Calgary, who did not want to be named because there are only a handful of houses in that neighbourhood, said that covenants are an undemocratic, antiquated tool.

“It’s fundamentally saying we are going to take power away from our elected officials who have been voted in by a majority of Calgarians,” the resident said.

“’We are going to take matters into our own hands and make decisions that we think benefit us, our property, and our neighbourhoods without any regard for the rest of the city.’”

Provincial wedge issue, perhaps?

The resident has seen literature from both the restrictive covenant campaign and the City of Calgary on the Heritage LAP. 

He said the City one showed the work that’s gone into the plan and the vision for redeveloping communities to make them more vibrant and accessible to all Calgarians.

“Then I saw the documents that were sent out by the association and my reaction was visceral. I feel kind of nauseous about it,” the resident said.

“I saw the booklet and I felt this was a new low.”

The resident said they were concerned that this was the ideal type of property rights wedge issue that could work its way into a provincial election.

The province responded to questions about potential changes or amendments to property rights as they pertained to restrictive covenants. They said the province has no role in the development or implementation of a restrictive covenant aside from it being registered at the land titles office.

“The creation, approval and enforcement of a restrictive covenant is the responsibility of the parties to the agreement, and in cases where a restrictive covenant is placed as a condition of a subdivision approval or development permit, may be enforced by municipalities,” read an email response from Michael Francour, A/Asst Communications Director, Alberta Municipal Affairs.

“Concerns regarding the use of restrictive covenants for particular neighbourhoods in the City of Calgary should be directed to the city or the landowners/developers for the affected developments.”

Density is fine, in the right areas

Aerial view of the proposed Midtown Station development. MIDTOWN STATION WEBSITE

Buchanan said he hopes councillors keep an open mind on the issue.  Plus, they’re hoping they can get a rationale for opening up every neighbourhood to density. He said no one’s been able to tell them how many homes are needed in Calgary to satisfy the city’s goal of 50 per cent established area growth (Municipal Development Plan goal by 2070).

He said there are vast corridors – Macleod Trail, or next to transit stations – that are ripe for high-density developments. Buchanan mentioned projects like the Midtown Station as an example of accomplishing density en masse.  

If they quantified what’s needed, the city could get to work on supporting these larger projects that would add thousands of units to Calgary, he said.

“There are more opportunities along the Macleod Trail. Some of the old, worn out, tired commercial properties, single storey, could be repurposed to accommodate the density that we need to accommodate,” Buchanan said.

When asked if anyone should be able to live in whatever community they desire in Calgary, Buchanan said people can choose where they want to live. He said there are a lot of opportunities to live in a variety of areas around Calgary based on what stage of life you are in.

“We don’t need to go after single-family communities which are at the end of the day, kind of at the top of the real estate chain in terms of desirable locations for families; they want to have a piece of grass in the back and whatnot,” Buchanan said.

Further, when asked if they would accept density in busy neighbourhood corridors or main streets, Buchanan said there’s a conversation to be had. But he said there hasn’t been one. According to him, they were presented with a plan. No real discussion.

The City’s engage page summarized what they heard and how it’s reflected in the plan.

Fraction of densification from the original plan

Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said the working groups, which offered community interests a chance to review the plan maps, were done throughout the creation of the Heritage LAP.

She compared it to changes that happened in the Westbrook Local Area Plan.

“What originally started off, like the original scale and scope of densification, it’s a fraction of that. It’s actually, I mean, I’ll say it’s disappointing,” Coun. Penner said.  

“I think I think they’ve scaled back too far, and it actually won’t help us meet our objectives.

“I also recognize this was a community-led initiative. This was 1000s of inputs into a community-wide plan, and that is what the community is saying that they can tolerate.”

In terms of objectives and having them quantified, Coun. Penner said that would require a lot of assumptions on what the market is going to build. There are a lot of factors to consider – including the number of people in each unit – that are difficult to determine.

She said the current Heritage LAP does exactly what Buchanan wants. Density is along the big corridors and near the transit stations.

As far as the restrictive covenant goes, Coun. Penner is hoping they’ll take a step back and look at the positives of how this has taken shape.  She said she’d never discourage anyone from taking this route and having conversations with their neighbours.

“I encourage them to do it – and I think that their neighbours have spoken,” Coun. Penner said.

“I would encourage them to just reflect on their efforts and reflect on the conversation that’s happening in the community and perhaps try to steer it towards something that brings people together for positive and for a net benefit of the community, rather than something that’s potentially a little bit controversial and dividing.”