Jenson Advocates Diversity in East Village

While most of us know Tom Jenson as the Lead Technologist here at Inertia and Gravity, as well as being a student of architecture at the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary, Tom is also the director of the planning committee for the East Village Neighbourhood Association (EVNA).

In a recent article in the Calgary Real Estate Board’s blog, Tom discusses how Calgary’s East Village needs, and is achieving, diversity in its population to attract the services the community requires.

Tom says that the “EVNA wants to ensure there are affordable places to live in our community for everyone, from the retail clerks in our local shops and cafes to the oil executives working in our neighbouring office towers.”

We appreciate the work Tom is doing in all of his roles toward making Calgary a better place to live.

Image from CREB article, originally courtesy Calgary Municipal Land Corp.

Image from CREB article, originally courtesy Calgary Municipal Land Corp.

Mount Pleasant R-CG Redesignation

We were at City Hall last week for a public hearing on a couple of redesignations. We were happy to have council's support in redesignating a parcel in Mount Pleasant to R-CG for an eight unit townhouse development. 

Some community members thought that this was the thin edge of the wedge to allowing rowhouses in Mount Pleasant, and that the community is going a good job of maintaining their population with current development. As well, Councillor Cabot noted that this would allow the density to double compared to the current land use.

However, Councillor Carra thought it was a great townhouse form, and that this is exactly the kind of lot that the R-CG district was designed to address. Councillor Woolley commented that this project would make living in Mount Pleasant more affordable.

Councillor Farrell expressed that 20th Avenue is the perfect candidate for row housing. The communities of Capitol Hill identified this in their recent ARP. She said that Mount Pleasant has seen significant development of large single family infills and that they also welcomed multi-family on 17th Avenue. What they don't have is product in between the multi-residential and the single family homes (sometimes called the "missing middle"). She said that this street is the perfect candidate for this. She mentioned that Council even discussed this street when they introduced the R-CG land use district. 

Councillor Carra doesn't agree with members of the community that Mount Pleasant should hold their population steady. He believes that inner city populations should be increased and sometimes significantly. Carra declared that "twentieth Avenue is the poster child for the R-CG land use". He said that the missing middle is a very important housing type to introduce to the inner city, and that even semi-detached houses are now out of the price range of normal families.

Councillor Chabot noted that there are a lot of single detached homes on 20th Avenue that haven't been converted to semi-detached. He's concerned that the City is trying to densify the city too quickly. He said that he appreciates where the applicant is going with this, but that he doesn't feel comfortable with doubling the current density that is allowed on the site or quadrupling the existing density. He said "It's going a little to much too quickly."

Woolley noted that Council approved the multi-residential infill guidelines and that this lot fits within those guidelines. He said that "It's a prime candidate for our infill guidelines" and it's a very good location. He said "I'm very supportive of this application."

Councillor Sutherland said that this was a perfect location. He noted that the density was reduced from what was originally proposed.

Councillor Farrell reiterated that this is appropriate development. She concluded that "this is a traditional land form that once developed will fit in very nicely with the community."

After discussion, Council gave three reading to the Bylaw amendments and approved the redesignation.

Unfortunately, on another item, a redesignation to allow a secondary suite in Wildwood will not be going ahead.

Fostering Inner City Development

Within the past month, Richard White has published three blog entries on how Calgary’s City Council could foster development in established communities. 

Permitted Multifamily

In the first entry, White proposes making multifamily development in the inner city a permitted use rather than a discretionary use. This means that if a proposed development meets all the Land Use Bylaw rules, then it's allowed as proposed. We're not against this idea, but relaxations can be an important part of making a project better or even possible. In fact, most multifamily applications have at least one relaxation. If a single relaxation exposes a developer to potential appeal, then this idea wouldn't really improve things at all.

SDAB Reform

In White's second entry, he discusses the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board. This board is famous for being arbitrary and allowing specious arguments. In our own experience, the decisions that the Board makes are at best unpredictable. We can't expect that there will be any more weight placed on the larger needs of the City than on the irrelevant claims of an unaffected neighbour. This introduces a signifiant risk to developers considering an inner city project, and certainly makes suburban development look more attractive. Unfortunately, as Richard writes, the recent review has only resulted in minor changes that haven't had an affect on outcomes.

Remove Redundant Policy

In his last entry on the subject, White suggests removing Area Redevelopment Plans from public policy. These plans were drafted to curb inner city development, and because of this, are out of sync with the City's progressive Municipal Development Plan. Case in point, the North Hill ARP begins with a nostalgic vision statement that includes: "There is a village atmosphere with young and old mingling in a way reminiscent of earlier, gentler times." The person who wrote that isn't going to stand for any change to his or her neighbourhood, especially if it might increase traffic (which is a code word for diversity). We project that the ARPs will stay on the books but will slowly fade out of relevance.

Thanks to Richard White for these three great entries and his excellent blog, The Everyday Tourist.

Secondary Suite Silver Lining

We think that most Calgarians are disappointed by yesterday's news that Secondary Suites won't soon be permitted (or even discretionary) in Calgary's R-C1 districts (nor R-1, R-C1L districts). We won't belabour the situation by pointing out how unique our city is in disallowing this modest form of housing.

Rather, we want to remind homeowners, builders, and developers that accessory suites are currently possible in the R-C2 district and many others! In fact, in the ubiquitous R-C2 district, suites within a dwelling unit, such as basement suites, are permitted on all lots that are 29 1/2 feet (9m) or wider.

As well, backyard suites—such as suites above garages—are discretionary on lots that are 42 1/2 feet (13m) in width or wider, at at least 98 1/2 feet (30m) deep, and at least 4305 square feet (400 square metres) in area. Most of Calgary's inner city lots are 50 feet wide and easily accommodate a backyard suite. The fact that they are discretionary simply means that a development permit is required prior to applying for a building permit.

From Council Agenda December 15th, 2014 at

From Council Agenda December 15th, 2014 at

Currently, most of our clients are building accessory suites above triple garages. This size of garage easily accommodates two parking stalls for the main house, plus one for the suite. As well, triple garages provide a large enough footprint to allow for a good-sized two bedroom suite above the garage.

Even though yesterday's secondary suite news might be bad, it doesn't necessarily mean that you need to put off your suite plans. If you have an R-C2 lot, you're good to go. If you have questions, please feel free to give us a call.

Residential ePermit

Yesterday, we submitted our first Residential ePermit to the City of Calgary. As you know, since the 1980s, the architecture and design industry has been moving towards using computer software to generate construction documentation including architectural drawings. As well, since the 1990s, the Internet has allowed us to move files from computer to computer that are in different places. Yet, until last year, the City of Calgary only accepted permit applications on paper and in person. Applicants would have to print all of their digital files to paper, take that paper to the City, and then wait in a queue to submit them. This would usually take hours, and occasionally resulted in the application being turned away because of a single missing piece of paper.

Happily, the City's new Residential ePermit system now allows us to submit some permits online. Currently the City is accepting single and semi-detached building permits in the suburbs, and single-detached development permit applications in the inner city. Next month they are expecting to be able to accept semi-detached development permit applications.

Our first application went smoothly only taking about a half an hour to complete. There were some things that weren't clear, such as whether site photos should be uploaded as individual files, or be put together as a multi-page PDF. The uploads were a bit slow, but overall, it was a straightforward process.

We saved:

  • Printing about 50 sheets of 24"x26" paper, stapled and folded
  • The delivery of those prints
  • Driving to and from City Hall
  • Waiting for hours before being seen at the counter, and then waiting for the counter staff to review the application while we wait.

We found out today that our application was rejected because of some minor deficiencies (it turns out that all the site photos have to be uploaded as separate files), but we can now quickly complete the application directly from our office. As well, we don't have to prepare any replacement prints.

This is a very exciting initiative from the City—one that is genuinely reducing red tape—and we are pleased to be a participant. To find out more about the City's Residential ePermits, visit their website. (Sorry if that link doesn't work—the City tends to shuffle their URLs from time to time.)