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Plan for condo tower in Calgary's Inglewood strikes a nerve

As the city seeks to densify, a neighbourhood group challenges a development called The Grid

A rendering for a proposed condominium project called ‘The Grid’ in East Inglewood, Calgary.

A 20-storey condo tower proposed for Calgary's oldest neighbourhood has caused "shock and disbelief" among residents, according to the planning chair of the community association.

The development group behind the project is seeking to more than triple the height zoning on the site, a former Husky gas station near the corner of 19th St. S.E. And 17th Ave. S.E., which, at 20 metres, currently allows for six storeys. The tower, called The Grid, would be the tallest ever built in Inglewood.

Daniel MacGregor, senior planner at B&A Planning Group, which is working alongside NORR Architecture on behalf of a group of financial investors, says the 63-metre tower would be a "community landmark."

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"By the end of 2018, this site will be 200 metres from the new Bus Rapid Transit station on 19th Street. This is a transit-oriented development and so density is essential," he says. "The site is also fairly isolated in that it sits close to 17th Avenue, Blackfoot Trail and arterial 19th Street. It's removed from the historic part of Inglewood, in an area which is currently dominated by automotive businesses. For these reasons, we feel the height is appropriate and the site is deserving of a gateway project; a community landmark."

The proposed development would comprise a 20-storey tower and 14 ground-level townhouses which, Mr. MacGregor says, would "architecturally respond to the historical character of the neighbourhood."

City of Calgary Transportation will not allow the development direct access to 19th Street, due to its proximity to the intersection at Blackfoot Trail, so the main entry and exit will be onto 7th Avenue.

"It's unfortunate we can't access onto 19th Street because that limits the amount of commercial and retail we could feasibly include in the project, but we're still looking at incorporating a coffee shop for the community," Mr. MacGregor says.

Leslie Robertson, planning chair of the Inglewood Community Association, says the community has concerns about the scale of the proposed development and its potential use of nearby residential streets.

"The routing for this development would be along 7th Avenue and down 20th Street, right in front of Colonel Walker School," she says. "These are quiet streets, in no way designed to take the volume of traffic associated with a residential tower of this scale."

And the community's concerns extend beyond the potential traffic issues.

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The development will include 14 ground-level townhouses.

"It's not an anti-development sentiment that I'm hearing. It's that this proposal is so 'out there' that we can't believe anybody would have the temerity to bring it to the table," she explains. "What's being proposed is not only more than triple the by-lawed height for the area, it's also immediately adjacent to single- and two-storey residences, not to mention the proximity to the flood plain and the bird sanctuary, which is an environmentally sensitive area. There's also the future Bend in the Bow park which will, at some point, run right alongside this site. That's hardly something that should have a huge high rise overshadowing it."

Ms. Robertson says the tower is also within the Airport Vicinity Protection Area (AVPA) where residential development is discouraged because of aircraft noise within the airport flight path.

The Community Association planning committee have previously described the AVPA as "a blunt instrument for controlling inappropriate densification" because it means a developer would have to request an exemption be made while also assuring the building achieves the highest levels of noise reducing insulation. Nearby developments like six-storey condominium SoBow have previously proven successful in achieving such an exemption.

Mr. MacGregor claims the AVPA is "not something that really concerns us at this point," and says the development group's priority at this point is "getting the community on side."

"We sent out 700 brochures to residents and received mixed feedback, which we weren't surprised at. The height of the tower is certainly the primary concern we've heard, followed by how it might look and also the increased traffic along 7th Avenue," he says. "But we've also had some positive feedback from residents who are excited to see this area of Inglewood improve to be more than it is right now, which is mostly automotive businesses and parking lots."

"At this point, we're just trying to stay connected because we know Inglewood is a really passionate and engaged community and we want to incorporate their feedback into our application to the city," he says.

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Mr. MacGregor also admits that, while their brochure states construction could begin as early as the end of 2018, it's likely to be well into 2019 before the required permits are in place.

While Ms. Robertson is adamant that any discussion of construction is, at this stage, "putting the cart before the horse," she allows that the proposed development has given new urgency to having the community's new Area Redevelopment Plan finalized by the city.

"We've been working on the new Redevelopment Plan for Inglewood for the past 14 years. It was last updated in 1993 and we're hopeful it will be finalized by the end of 2018," she says. "It's unfortunate that it's taken so long because we feel it renders our community a little vulnerable at a time when the Bus Rapid Transport System and the Green Line LRT are attracting a lot of attention from developers. The sooner it can be signed, sealed and delivered the better."

The new Area Redevelopment Plan, in draft format, sets out clear 25-year density targets which will more than double the population of identified historic neighbourhoods within the community. Targets would take the population of Atlantic Avenue, Walker Estate, Pierce Estate and Brewery Flats from a little over 6,000 to 13,300 by 2039.

Ms. Robertson says Inglewood is already well ahead of schedule on meeting those targets.

"With projects approved or projected, we're already 50 per cent of the way towards achieving the density targets set by the city, which is pretty laudable," she says.

In 2014, Inglewood was named Canada's Greatest Neighbourhood by the Canadian Institute of Planners. It's an accolade of which the community is still immensely proud. Ms. Robertson has lived there for 20 years and says "it used to be one of Canada's best kept secrets, but the secret got out."

"You can't put the genie back in the bottle, there's a lot at stake here and we hope the city acknowledges that when the time comes," she says.

Inglewood community association will hold a stakeholder and community engagement event to discuss the proposed development on March 1.

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