Calgary expanding into rural areas, bringing ski hills closer to the city

With luscious mountaintops and snow-covered hills as a backdrop, it is no wonder that Springbank Hill is quickly becoming one of the most desirable neighbourhoods in Calgary.

It’s out with the cookie-cutter starter homes and in with the custom-built luxury homes.

Springbank evokes a ski village-type atmosphere; there are pointy triangular roofs and extravagant front steps with all the fixings. Many of the homes on the generous lots have that log cabin look with wood and stone sidings. Or more precisely, are built with man-made materials simply meant to look like wood and stone — but costs a whole lot more.

You will need a six-figure income to live in this southwest neighbourhood — an average cost, as indicated on the Re/Max Southern Realty website, of a single family home is just over $1 million.

With all the amenities that one could ever need just around the corner, mothers in the local Starbucks can be heard talking about their kids’ school, also located within the neighbourhood. There is a sense that if you lived here you would rarely venture further than a two mile radius.

City struggling to keep up with Springbank’s expansion

Springbank resident and mother, Hennele Juressen describes the area as a “rural setting that is close enough to the city to go shopping, but far enough away that your neighbours are not on top of you like they are in other neighbourhoods.”Springbank homes evoke a ski-village like atmosphere.
Photo by: Celeste De Muelenaere

As she takes a sip from her white Starbucks cup in the seating area at Chapters, she says that the appeal of this southwest suburb goes further than just the “great boutique shops and up-market type stores nearby.”

As a mother with one child still in school, Juressen says “all the private schools are nearby and for that matter, all the schools in Springbank are excellent.”

However, Juressen, 45, notes that the expansion and ongoing developments in the area has a downside.

Once a sparsely developed “rural” area of Calgary, Springbank Hill has bloomed into a fully-fledged neighbourhood. The City of Calgary’s Community Social Statistics indicates that between 2005 and 2009, the population of Springbank has increased by 79 per cent — from 4,399 people to 7,897 people — one of the quickest developments in the city.

Juressen explains that the developments have happened “too much, too fast” and that “the schools cannot keep up with the population, especially the middle schools.”

A teacher herself, Juressen says she knows many children who must commute to schools in surrounding neighbourhoods, as there are too many kids to accommodate them all. Furthermore, the bus routes have also not adjusted to the increase in demand and do not run frequently enough.

The statistics for Springbank Hill seem to confirm Juressen’s opinion. In 2009, the majority of the population was made up of families. According to the city data, children in the area were 15.5 per cent of the population and were between the ages of five and 14, while the highest population demographic — 21.7 per cent — was adults between 35 and 44 years old.

From farmlands to estate-style oasis

Former Springbank inhabitant John Wiehler, 27 — whose parents still reside in there — notes that it is more than just the convenience of having everything you need within a 10-minute drive from home that makes Springbank a desirable neighbourhood for young families.

“We moved out there when I was eight years old,” Wiehler says. “It was mainly farmlands. Every house that was built out there was all on four-acre lot sizes (about 1.62 hectares), which was very nice.

“It was a great place to grow up in.”

What appealed to his family was the space that comes from being just outside the city and the privacy associated with it. This is a feature of this west-end community that has not changed much over the years, despite many of the farms being converted to residential lots.

Wiehler remarks that Springbank still boasts larger lot sizes than most communities. He says every house there still occupies close to one hectare.Springbank is quickly becoming a dream location for up-and-coming young professionals.
Photo by: Celeste De Muelenaere

Another selling point for an area like Springbank is the proximity to the mountains. Wiehler says that the location lends itself to more frequent day trips to actual ski villages like Banff and Lake Louise.

“It is second-to-none. We are like an hour and a bit away from Sunshine (Village). But where I live now, I literally have to pack on an extra 25 minutes to that drive,” he says.

“Springbank is hilly. There are a lot of people who can have a mountain view without being obstructed by a neighbour, which is another nice feature I think.”

Wiehler, who is a plumber by trade and works in the area, says “they are definitely higher-end houses by far, over any other area that we work in.”

He adds that most houses in Springbank are estate-style and are over 3,000 square feet.

The cost of estate-style living

With the luxurious finishings of custom-built homes, it comes as no surprise that not every Tom, Dick and Harry can be found living in Springbank. Even back in 2005 when the area first started to flourish, statistics indicated that the median household income of six-figures yearly – $116,000 and higher – was the standard for those occupying property in this Whistler-type “ski-village.”

While most of us might have trouble falling into the required income bracket reserved for this suburban oasis, it has certainly blossomed into more than just mere farmlands and is quickly becoming a stereotypical white-picket fence, dream location for up-and-coming young professionals who can afford it.

cdemuelenaere@cjournal.ca