Kensington Legion Redevelopment: Taller is better?

On September 9th I attended a meeting organized by Calgarians concerned about the redevelopment of the Kensington Legion site. In fact, it was openly organized by those who opposed the development - there was full transparency about that.

This was not an official Open House organized by the City or Truman Development Corp. who has joint-ventured with the Kensington Legion to redevelop the Kensington Road Legion site. I found out from a friend who lives near the site and had a notice placed in his mailbox. Given I live in West Hillhurst and the 19th Street/Kensington Road intersection is quickly becoming our Town Centre. I attended to better understand their concerns.

Of the 120 or so people there, all but a few others (including me) vehemently opposed the redevelopment for various reasons. Most were concerned about the proposed height of the concept building (10 storeys) and the number of condo units (190), which would make it the largest project in the central northwest - larger than anything in Kensington Village.  It was referred to many times as “a game changer” and “precedent setting.”

Conceptual rendering of the Kensington Legion site redevelopment, with the new Legion / Office Building on the left and the mixed-use condo building on the right.  The design and materials create a unique sense of place and function as a gateway to West Hillhurst. 

Looking northwest this rendering illustrates how the building relates with the community. Note the height of the building next to the homes on the north side is not any higher than a new large infill single family house. 

  This rendering illustrates the sites proximity to downtown, Bow River and Kensington Village. 

This rendering illustrates the sites proximity to downtown, Bow River and Kensington Village. 

The Proposal at a Glance

Truman has submitted an application to rezone the land into two parcels and it is being reviewed by the City of Calgary. The smaller parcel on the west side would become home for a four-storey mixed-use Legion building. The first two floors would be the Legion’s new home and the top two would be new office space to be leased to tenants as a means of increasing and diversifying their revenues. This could become a new redevelopment model to rejuvenate struggling Legions across Canada.

As a trade-off for building at turn-key home for the Legion,Truman is seeking to rezone the land where the existing Legion and parking lot exists to allow for a mixed-use mid-rise development i.e. retail at street level and condos above.

This is where it gets confusing. Despite there being two phases to the project, the Land Use rezoning for both is happening at the same time. To complicate matters further, Truman is also submitting the development application for the 4-storey office building, however this will only happen if Truman is successful with the Land Use rezoning for a four-storey office building.

It is also expected Truman will be submitting the mixed-use (retail/condo) development application this fall even though the Land Use Rezoning decision by City Council – including a public hearing where anyone can get their 5-minutes to address Council – will not be made until December at the earliest.

Site 1 is where the proposed Phase One 4-storey office building will be located and Site 2 is where the proposed Phase Two mixed-use retail/condo building will be located. 

What is Land Use Rezoning?

Every piece of land in the City is zoned for a certain type and scale of development – there are dozens of different types. In layman’s terms, some land is zone exclusively for single-family residential; other zoning allows for condos and townhomes at various heights and densities, some zoning allows for a maximum of four-storey multifamily with retail at the street, or six story wood frame. There is also separate zoning classifications for commercial, industrial or institutional development.

Zoning is the means the City strategically develops land in a compatible and balanced manner with neighbouring land uses and infrastructure, as well as with the City’s overall need for residential, commercial, industrial and institutional development.

Rezoning of Land Use happens quite frequently.  While a landowner thinks s/he has a better idea for the use of the land than the current land use, s/he applies to the City for change-of-use and provides their rationale. The application is evaluated by City Administration and other stakeholders (Community Association) as part of the review process. The City Administration then makes a recommendation to Calgary Planning Commission who in turn make a recommendation to City Council to determine if the Rezoning is aligned with the City's strategic long-term planning policies and goals as set by Council, and also if it fits with the best interest of the neighbours and community. If Council, ultimately approves the Land Use Rezoning the landowner can apply for a development permit based on the new zoning.

  The timeline shows how the new Land Use Redesignation (or Rezoning as it is sometimes called, just to confuse the matter more) will be conducted including the public engagement and public hearing aspect of the process. (from Turman website) 

The timeline shows how the new Land Use Redesignation (or Rezoning as it is sometimes called, just to confuse the matter more) will be conducted including the public engagement and public hearing aspect of the process. (from Turman website) 

  This illustration documents how the development permit application process works including public engagement.  (from Truman website)

This illustration documents how the development permit application process works including public engagement. (from Truman website)

  This illustration documents how the Site 2 (mixed-use building) development permit application will proceed with public engagement continuing into 2016. (from Truman website)

This illustration documents how the Site 2 (mixed-use building) development permit application will proceed with public engagement continuing into 2016. (from Truman website)

Kensington Legion: Prime Site For Redevelopment

In the case of the Kensington Legion site, it is currently an underutilized site with its one-storey building and large surface parking lot located 3 km from downtown, along a major bus route, near schools and the historic West Hillhurst Main Street (along 19th St NW).  It not only has great access to downtown but also to SAIT, University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre, Alberta Children’s Hospital and Mount Royal University.  These factors make it ripe for redevelopment.

The City's Municipal Development Plan identifies Kensington Road (between 10th St NW and Crowchild Trail) as a Neighbourhood Corridor supported by Primary Transit (i.e. Bus Rapid Transit) and as a Neighbourhood Boulevard, which makes it an ideal site for retail at street level, with office spaces and condos above.  The great debate is how much retail, office and condo development should go on the site and how does it get configured.

Kensington Road (from 14th Street to Crowchild Trail) is part of the City’s new Main Street Initiative,  which looks at how the City can foster the development of more pedestrian-oriented streetscapes with restaurants, cafes, boutique retailers, yoga/fitness studios, professional offices and low (under 4 storeys) to mid-rise (under 12 storeys) condo buildings so as to create walkable communities.  

Interesting to note that a Kensington Road Main Street Open House (ironically held at the Legion Building), citizens indicated strongly that they wanted to see more retail, restaurants, an urban grocery store and more condos in high quality buildings - almost exactly what Truman has proposed.  One caveat some in attendance (not all) stated the maximum height should be four-storeys. At the same time they also said they didn’t want it to look like Kensington Village, but something unique to their community.

With the current the Legion sitting on uniquely large inner-city site there is potential for a much larger and taller building than you would typically find in Kensington Village, Marda Loop or Mission.  Truman’s concept building cascades downward from 10 storeys (at Kensington Road), to just three storeys (adjacent to the alley).

Truman did not set out to design a 10-storey building, but achieve a particular floor to land area ratio (FAR) goal as per Land use requirements. One way the FAR goal could be achieved with this project is by creating a cascading building form and height with 10-storeys on the southside next to Kensington Road stepping down to its lowest height on the northside next to the single-family homes. This helps to minimize the shadow impact on existing neighbours. 

This illustration shows that the 10-storey configuration of the concept building actually creates less of a shadow than a six-storey box structure would. 

Summary of comment from Kensington Road NW Main Street Open House. 

This Google Earth image illustrates the proximity of the Kensington Legion site to key employment centers and amenities. 

The Objections to the Development

While I believe many people in attendance at the September 9th meeting were in favour of some development, there were a plethora of reasons they objected to Truman’s 10-storey development. Comments I heard were:  

  • West Hillhurst should remain a single-family home community

  • Will bring “hordes” of panhandlers and drug users

  • Shouldn’t be any development taller than four storeys

  • Will lower the value of my home

  • Would be better as a park

  • Some feared that if 10-storeys was allowed with this project the next project could be 15+ storeys.

  • Back alley concerns from delivery trucks and poor garbage removal by businesses

The most interesting objection was parents concerned about all vehicular access to the site being from 18th Street (via the back alley) as 18th Street is an important street to access Queen Elizabeth (QE) Schools (elementary, junior high and high school).  It was also stated that QE is a “walk-only” school. (I later checked with the Calgary Board of Education who said they don’t use that term, but QE is a designated community school which many children walk to. But they also added QE offers many alternative programs that attract students from other neighbourhoods who are bussed to school.)

I do see dozens of school buses and cars parked outside the three schools every school day dropping off and picking up students. The kids walking to school are already used to negotiating the busy streets surrounding the school. I appreciate some parents’ concerns about the increased traffic exiting and entering off of 18th Street and the safety of children, but I wonder if this objection is a red herring. 

As for the worst objection, my “vote” goes to…

Some people complained Truman didn’t do enough to notify people that about the development and provide ample opportunity for input as most of the engagement happened over the summer. Perhaps that is true if you were away all summer, but really, how many people go away all summer?

In reality, Truman manned a display room in the Legion building every Wednesday (4 to 7 pm) and Saturday (11am to 2 pm) from July 15th through August 29th for people to view the proposal (poster board information panels and a 3D model) and chat with their development team one-on-one.  In all, there were 14 different sessions totalling 42 hours. In addition, a website had all of the information about the project and contact information since early July - and it still exists.

Thirdly, sandwich boards were placed at various locations near the site along Kensington Road inviting people to visit the Display Room at the Legion. A small kiosk next to the sidewalk in front of the Legion also had information about the proposal and post-it notes for people to provide comments anytime day or night.

Temporary kiosk located at the Kensington Legion site next to sidewalk to allow neighbours to read about the project and provide comments. 

  Concept images of the proposed buildings for Kensington Legion site redevelopment. 

Concept images of the proposed buildings for Kensington Legion site redevelopment. 

  Information panel outlining the process for rezoning and development permit approval at the kiosk. 

Information panel outlining the process for rezoning and development permit approval at the kiosk. 

 

Last Word

The last thing I would like to see is cookie cutter, four-storey box condo all too commonly seen in urban renewal communities not only in Calgary, but in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland and Edmonton.  The Kensington Legion site has the capacity to be home for a signature building that would be the gateway to the new West Hillhurst.  How exciting would that be!

Yes, it is a “game changer” - and that is a good thing. It could be the impetus for transforming West Hillhurst into a wonderful 21st century urban village with a vibrant town centre complete with local shops, cafes and offices. 

Yes, it is “precedent setting” and I hope the precedent will lead to more low to mid-rise, mixed-use buildings along Kensington Road, thereby attracting more people to live/work/play in OUR community. 

I also hope it has the potential of being the catalyst for a name change from West Hillhurst to Grand Trunk, the original name of the community. 

It is time for West Hillhurst to step out of the shadow of the neighbouring Hillhurst/Sunnyside community and become Canada’s next best community. This YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) says YES!

If you like this blog, click on the links below for related blogs: 

Kensington Village: One of North America's Healthest Communities

Calgary: Flaneuring 19th St. NW

West District: Community Engagement Gone Wild

Calgary evolving into five cities

Over the past week or so I have had several discussions with people about the pros and cons of the City of Calgary's proposed Scenario A and Scenario B changes to the existing 14 Ward boundaries.  Some see the changes as major, others as minor.  Kudos to the city for publishing the two scenarios they think would work best on their website and asking public input. 

Personally, I am thinking the two scenarios are not significantly different and that we should be looking a radical boundary changes that will significantly change how our city is governed in the future.  Here are a few other scenarios that should be considered: 

Scenario C -  The map below illustrate how the City is are monitor growth in our city and where their is land available for both residential and commercial growth.  It is interesting to note from a strategic growth planning perspective the City has created eight sectors based on several common denominators, not 14. Therefore, why not have just 8 Wards with boundaries that match these sectors?  

Scenario D - Perhaps we should even go further and develop just five Wards - Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, Northwest and Centre.  We could have two Councillors for each ward for a total of 10, four less than the current 14.  

Scenario E  - We could be even more radical and have no Wards and just elect 10 Councillors at large. Perhaps this would help remove the urban/suburban split that exists in Council today as all of the members would have city-wide mandates, versus the special interests of their Ward. 

I am thinking a few more scenarios would create much more debate and perhaps result in real change. 

These sectors are based upon general planning, housing markets and servicing criteria. The suburban sectors have strong relationships to future servicing and infrastructure requirements. (City of Calgary, Suburban Residential Growth 2015 - 2019 Report).

Current residential population and employment in each of the City's geomatic sectors. 

In thinking about this issue, I remembered a column I did for the Calgary Herald back in 2011 about "Calgary evolving into five cities." I have reprinted it below as it is no longer available on the Herald's website.  I hope that you will find it thought provoking. 

"A Tale of Five Cities"

By Richard White, Calgary Herald June 11, 2011

One of Calgary’s advantages during the past 50 years has been its ability to annex land and surrounding communities as it grows.  Examples include Forest Lawn and Midnapore in 1961, or Bowness in 1963.

As a result, Calgary has been able to evolve as a single city with a healthy inner city and suburban neighbourhoods, rather than a fragmented urban region such as Edmonton with large, suburban edge cities (OK, Calgary may not be perfect, but it’s better than most.) This is not the case for most North American cities.

Fragmentation of North American cities

In most cases, the original city was surrounded by smaller towns with their own town council, as well as fire, water, safety and school systems. During the past 50 years, these small “edge towns” have mostly become large, independent cities able to offer lower taxes and housing because they didn’t have transit systems, social programs or an aging infrastructure. This resulted in more and more residents and businesses choosing to locate to such places. For example, in 1961, the City of Vancouver’s population was 384,522, with a regional population of 827,000.

Today, the lower mainland of B.C. has a population of 2.5 million divided into 21 municipalities, with Vancouver representing only 23 per cent of the metro population -down from 46 per cent in 1961. On the other hand, Calgary’s population in 1961 was 249,641, or 89 per cent of the regional population of 279,000. Today, the City of Calgary’s population is 1,071,515, or 81 per cent of the regional population.

During the past 50 years, Airdrie has grown to a city of 39,822, Okotoks to 23,201, Cochrane to 15,424 and Strathmore to 12,139 -but they are still, for the most part, bedroom communities of Calgary. In the past, this growth has been mostly residential. However, more and more these edge cities are experiencing retail and industrial growth as a result of no business taxes and lower land costs.

Calgary will not be able to annex these cities as they did in the past, which could lead to fragmented development in the future.  As Calgary has grown, even internally, its residents have begun to think less and less like those of a unified city and more and more like a fragmented one.

One of the unique features of Calgary is that despite living in a city of more than a million, for the most part people live in one of four quadrants. If you divide them into 250,000 people apiece, that’s roughly a city the size of Saskatoon or Victoria for each quadrant.

Many Calgarians living in the northwest never cross the Bow River except to go downtown to work. Similarly, those who live in the southwest also never cross the Bow River except to get to the airport. More and more Calgarians are identifying with the quadrant they live in.

Downtown is an island of skyscrapers in a sea of low rise buildings.  In this photo you can see how the Bow River divides the western half of the city into north and south quadrants. (photo credit Peak Aerials).

A City Divided?

When it comes to new infrastructure, the city is currently very divided. The airport tunnel, though an issue for businesses and residents in the northeast, is a nonissue for the rest of the city. The southeast LRT extension, though a key issue for southeast downtown commuters, isn’t an issue for southeasterners who don’t work downtown -nor for those who live in the city’s other three quadrants. The ring road connection is a key issue for those in the southwest now that they have their LRT connection to downtown, but less so for others.

More and more, Calgary is a city divided. We are now living in a “what about me” (WAM) society. Most 20th century cities -including Calgary -are now dealing with problems based on that century’s downtowncentric model of planning cities.  In other words, downtown was made the focal point for al commercial, cultural and civic activities, as well as roads and transit.

While there are few cities in the world as downtowncentric as Calgary, our downtown struggles to thrive in the evenings and weekends when commuters are back home in the suburbs. And while downtown is still Calgary’s economic engine, other parts of the city are developing their own character, charm and culture.

Another problem is that while downtown remains important to the everyday lives of 20 per cent of Calgarians, for the other 80 per cent, it is not part of their urban experience on a monthly, quarterly, or for some even an annual basis.

Fish Creek Park divides the communities north and south of this huge provincial park within the city limits. 

Weaselhead Flats and the Glenmore Reservoir serve as a natural dividing line between the inner city and established communities to the south. 

I see Calgary quickly evolving into five distinct “cities,” each with their own economic base, amenities and culture: the Learning City, the Airport City, the Playground City, the Corporate City and the Healthcare/Rail City.

Five Future Cities?

I thought it might be interesting to look at how Calgary might evolve over the next 50 years.

The Learning City

This is primarily the northwest quadrant of the city running from the Bow River to the city’s northern limits, and from Deerfoot Trail to the city’s western limits. Its employment centres are the University of Calgary, Foothills Medical Centre (teaching hospital), SAIT Polytechnic and Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD). This is where the majority of professors, instructors, doctors, nurses and other staff live, work and play.

It has two major parks: Nose Hill and Bowness Park. Recreationally, it has Canada Olympic Park and Shouldice Athletic Park, as well as several major recreation centres. It has more than five million square feet of retail, including Market Mall, Northland Village mall, North Hill Mall, Brentwood Mall and Crowfoot Power Centre.

It is also home to Calgary’s first urban village - Kensington, with its cafe culture and Plaza Theatre. About 325,000 people live in the Learning City.

University District will become a new urban village on the west side of the University of Calgary campus. (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

SAIT campus (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

University of Calgary campus (photo credit peak aerials) 

Foothill Medical Centre (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

The Airport City

This is basically the northeast quadrant of the city, an area from east of Deerfoot Trail and north of 17th Avenue S.E.

The airport is the key differentiator for this “city.” and the driver for its economy is the almost 40-million square feet of industrial space and six-million square feet of suburban office space surrounding the airport.

It is home to about 230,000 Calgarians, who not only work there but shop (International Avenue, Marborough Mall, Sunridge Mall and CrossIron Mills could be included as part of the Airport City) and play (Rotary Park and Elliston Park) there.

The Airport City could also be called our multicultural city.

Calgary International Airport (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

New suburban residential development at the edge of the city. (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

The Playground City

This is all communities south the City Centre and Mcleod Trail. It is where the majority of corporate Calgary lives and plays. It is home to Chinook Centre, Calgary’s largest shopping centre, as well as IKEA, Southcentre, WestHills and Shawnessy Power Centres -almost 10 million square feet of retail space. It is served by two legs of the LRT.

It is also home to amenities such as the Westside, Southland and Trico recreation centres, as well as Glenmore Reservoir, Weaselhead, Fish Creek and Heritage Parks, along with Spruce Meadows. Surrounded by golf courses at its edges, it also has three private clubs -Calgary Golf and Country Club, Earl Grey, and Canyon Meadows -within its boundaries.

It has two non-retail employment centers -Mount Royal University/Westmount Office Park and Manchester industrial area.

About 400,000 people live in our Playground City.

The Corporate (Centre) City

This is the area from Inglewood to Sunalta, from Crescent Heights to Roxboro (in other words, the Bow/Elbow River Valley.) It overlaps with the Learning City on the north side of the river. Not only is it the economic engine for Calgary and one of the top economic engines for Canada. It is the heart, soul and face of Calgary.

It is home to Calgary's truly urban districts -  Kensington Village, Uptown 17th, Stephen Avenue Walk, Design District, 4th Street and Inglewood Village.

It is also home to more than 60 million square feet of offices, hotels, retail, restaurants, attractions and condos. It is one of the most densely developed areas in North America.

It is Calgary’s corporate, cultural and civic headquarters and home to most of our cultural, festival and sporting events. It is home to Stampede Park, Shaw Millennium Park and Prince’s Island Park, as well as signature recreation facilities such as Talisman Centre, Bankers Hall Club and Eau Claire Y.

More than 150,000 Calgarians come to work here each workday, with about 70,000 calling it home.

Municipal Building with old City Hall (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

Shaw Millennium Park & Mewata Armories (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

New condo in downtown's West End (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

The Healthcare / Railway City

This is Calgary’s newest city. Located in the southeast, it will soon be dominated by the new mega-South Health Campus in Seton.

It is also Calgary’s largest industrial area, with more than 45.9 million square feet of industrial space and more than three million square feet of suburban office space, including the new Quarry Park development.

Existing recreational and park amenities include Calgary Soccer Centre, Fish Creek Park and Carburn Park. It is currently home to about 75,000 people but it is expected to grow to more than 120,000 by 2020.

South Health Campus anchors the new SETON community which will create a new city with in the city complete with its own downtown. (photo credit: Peak Aerials) 

Quarry Park office, retail and residential development (photo credit: Peak Aerials)

Fish Creek Library (Peak Aerials)

Conclusion

Cities are a human creation. They are part of the ongoing human adventure. They are a work in progress. We are still experimenting. Calgary needs to rethink the North American city of the 21st century.

We need to stop trying to Europeanize our city and develop a winter/prairie urban model that embraces the car, transit, pedestrians and bikes.

Calgary could be a leader in the development of new urban models, rather than imitating what cities did 100 years ago.

We need to look inward, not outward, and start thinking BIG and planning in terms of how can we foster the development of five distinct sustainable Calgary cities - each with their own quality of life, their own sense of place, and their own mix of employment, residential, retail/restaurant, parks, recreation and cultural centres.

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