UPDATE: According to a CBC Article, Calgary city council voted 13-1 on Monday in favour of amending the land use designation to allow RNDSQR to move forward with their development, the Block. Because the vote was not unanimous, it will go before council again for final approval.
Controversy brews on Calgary's original main street this week as community prepares for a city council meeting that will decide the fate of RNDSQR's Block, a 12-storey mixed-use property that aims to contravene 9th Avenue’s building height bylaw.
Both the Inglewood Business Improvement Area (BIA) and the Inglewood Community Association (ICA) have raised concerns that the city has put the “cart before the horse” approving projects before new rules are in place and without allowing effective community engagement. In addition, the BIA and the ICA say the project will cast a shadow on Inglewood’s pedestrian-oriented main street.
L.J. Robertson, the director of Inner-city planning and heritage for the ICA, says she's concerned about the precedent-setting effect the project will have on Inglewood's 9th Avenue.
"We feel that if this goes ahead, that will be the end, essentially for Inglewood because it will cascade down the avenue," she says. "Once you've given the height away, your battle’s lost.”
In response, on Monday, July 27 the BIA will be presenting a report to city council outlining recommendations on the upcoming developments to 9th Ave. S.E.. A report that the BIA agreed to stand behind before even knowing if the results agree with their position.
Inglewood residents and business owners will also be in attendance, but Dan Allard, Board chair of the Inglewood BIA, fears it's too late.
"This application has already gone through the circulation and all the city departments. It's already gone through Calgary Planning Commission, and it's been approved to go to council for a public hearing. That's the very last step," Allard said.
"In our experience, It's not generally where the decisions are made. Usually, the decisions tend to be made prior to that."
Ninth Avenue, just blocks away from the new development site. Three storey buildings line the streets. Photo: Angela Lackey
Although it may be too late for the public, Allard hopes that an objective, non-partisan peer review of the area redevelopment plan will sway the outcome, despite the risks involved.
"The BIA is hanging their hat on those recommendations to the point of signing an affidavit," said Rebecca O'Brien, the BIA's executive director. "Whatever they recommend, the BIA will accept those recommendations."
"Right from the get-go, we said, ‘All right, we're gonna take our personal opinion out of this, we might be wrong, maybe 12 stories is right at this location, who knows?"
O'Brien said the BIA's position is pro-development, pro-density, and pro-bold design. They are by no means asking for imitation heritage. However, they feel that 12-storey buildings have an adverse effect on the pedestrian experience of the street, she said.
Allard is asking the city for a more transparent process. Decisions being made about a community should involve and align with the community itself, he said.
"Why is there an outcome that's completely different from
all of the opinions from the surrounding community?"
"I don't know one single person that I've spoken with as a business owner or as a resident who's cool with these heights along 9th Avenue. And yet, here we are," he said.
"Why is there an outcome that's completely different from all of the opinions from the surrounding community?"
O'Brien wants the city to work with Inglewood on the bylaw changes before approving any projects that contravene the rules already in place.
"The whole process is flawed. It's deeply flawed. I have confidence that our city council will understand that they need to put the horse in front of the cart and wait for the local area plan before making any decisions that will be precedent-setting."
A rendering of RNDSQR’s Block, beside the CIBC building. Image courtesy of RNDSQR.
Alkarim Devani, the co-founder of RNDSQR, said he's no stranger to the challenges of working with established neighbourhoods.
"One of the things you have to realize is as soon as you decide to develop and establish areas, we're working in someone else's backyard, and technically you're never going to get everybody on board."
He said he's been working on the Block for 18 months now, with one of the most thorough engagement processes to date. With maildrops, newsletter ads, open-house events, and three meetings with the Inglewood Community Association and one with the BIA, they also installed an interactive feature right on the site, a sort of "speaker's corner" where passers-by can answer some questions about the project.
In addition, RNDSQR purchased the CIBC building next door, and plan to designate it as a heritage site. Devani said they're trying to strike a balance between retaining the community's heritage while introducing what they felt was an appropriate scale for the future.
Despite this engagement, Inglewood community members say it’s not enough. Those that are working hard to preserve 9th Avenue’s “village vibe” would like to see more than information about projects coming up, they would like to have their voices added to the builds themselves, in a more significant way.
Allard is both a business owner and a resident in Inglewood. He said the real reason people come down is for that village appeal — one that is continuously being talked about and posted about. They come for its human-scale pedestrian environment, and that's precisely what the BIA aims to protect.
"We want more people living here, we want more density, and there are lots of places to do it. We just don't want to affect that specific golden nugget. That's the main attraction. So it's important for us to be involved because otherwise, the conversation and dialogue only happen between developers in the city."
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