Look ahead: Shaping Calgary's growth into 2024

Increasing housing supply and affordability are a central task for the City of Calgary’s housing strategy.

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Will 2024 be the year that interest rates return to a reasonable level? The year that housing becomes more affordable, that vacancy rates rise and the chant in neighbourhoods everywhere becomes “Yes in My Backyard”?

The crystal ball is still a bit cloudy, but one thing we know for sure is that it will be a year of change as the city takes action on its 2024 to 2030 Housing Strategy. The line of attack in this formal plan with approved amendments to current policies (published on the city’s website at Calgary.ca) outlines five outcomes, the first of which is to increase the supply to meet demands and increase affordability. Within that are important initiatives such as the proposal for citywide rezoning to a base residential or R-CG District. This change is touted to increase housing supply and significantly reduce the costs and timelines for permit approvals.

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Shameer Gaidhar is board chair of the 200-member Calgary Inner City Builders Association founded in 2020. One of its mandates is to work together with the city on responsible redevelopment, which often involves rezoning to densify established neighbourhoods.

Gaidhar is an advocate for blanket rezoning in Calgary. His company, Millenium Plus Homes, is currently building fourplexes on three lots previously occupied by 600-square-foot bungalows. Where three families once lived, 16 will be able to reside, but getting approval to create density on single-family lots can be daunting.

“Every day, people leave notes on our fence asking if they can rent one of the units. It’s tough right now for people,” he says.

The obvious areas ripe for rezoning are along transit corridors, but blanket rezoning could encourage densifying the inner-city ring communities that have 50-, 60- and even 70-foot-wide lots. Gaidhar offers assurance that blanket rezoning would not mean that fourplex would be built next to a luxury single-family home in a typical R-1 or R-2 community even if allowed by law.

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“A lot of people are afraid of what’s going to happen in their neighbourhood. The economics have to make sense. I’m not going to buy a $2 million piece of property and build a fourplex. I’d be broke,” he says.

Development in new suburban communities is also led by economics but must factor in density, dependence on cars and the wants and needs of buyers. Land developers such as Genesis Land Development and Hopewell Residential work within specific parameters determined by the city to create efficient and affordable communities and will be less affected by changes to rezoning.

“We are constantly pushing the envelope on new housing forms, street layouts, working with the natural topography and innovative infrastructure solutions to reduce our environmental footprint. We focus on optimizing land use, incorporating mixed-use developments to balance density with quality of life,” says Iain Stewart, Genesis president and CEO.

As raw land prices have increased, density helps bring the end price of a new home down. Brett Friesen, Hopewell senior vice-president of business and community development says the affordability crisis will drive product innovation, such as secondary suites options in new builds, to create more living spaces for people.

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“Catering to people in all income brackets and housing forms creates diversity and allows communities to be completed much faster,” he says.

More people per linear metre of street means tax efficiency from the city’s point of view. It costs the city just as much to plow a street of 50 people as it does a street with 100 people, but more people makes it less expensive to pay for that service. Josh White, director of planning and development services for the City of Calgary, says in the majority of established areas in Calgary there are fewer people today than at the community’s peak.

“There are fewer people supporting city services. We need to replenish that population to more families moving in to keep schools open and keep businesses viable. All of the pieces of the puzzle fit together for a more economically resilient city,” he says.

Not all density fits well inside an established community or sits well with the next-door neighbours. A land use change proposal for a six-storey 65-unit apartment building proposed in the northeast community of Renfrew was denied in November following community opposition. The proposed redevelopment of Glenmore Landing by RioCan is being vehemently fought in an organized campaign by nearby communities in the southwest. The city recently invested in a BRT line which runs past the site at 14th Street and 90th Avenue S.W. White says the shopping centre is an underutilized commercial site and there are already high-density towers nearby.

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“We plan generally where it’s appropriate with different types of density and redevelopment. Any developer can make a proposal. Usually, they try to align with city plans and policies and we evaluate those plans against our plans and policies. We’re called the planning department for a reason. We’re not just the reactive department,” says White.

While the city is full of smart people, they’re not on the ground where a new development is proposed to be built. Public engagement is key to any change the municipality makes, according to Byron Miller, an urban studies professor at the University of Calgary. He says the housing crisis is urgent and complicated, but planning a city that people want to live in and enjoy is paramount.

“I don’t think our attempts to solve some of these pressing problems should completely ignore the need for the voice of citizens that often have detailed knowledge that planners, who don’t live in the area, don’t have. I don’t think weakening our planning processes is an appropriate way to deal with the very real crisis we have to address,” he says. “Sometimes discussion can be helpful because they lead us to other approaches that are actually better than the original.”

The City of Calgary is looking for input into the rezoning process beginning this month with a public hearing set for April 22, when a citywide approach to rezoning will be presented to council. Citizens can subscribe to updates at Calgary.ca.

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