Friday, September 27, 2013

Maintaining the vibrancy of Calgary’s downtown!

Calgary’s downtown area is home to a large ensemble of office towers, skyscrapers and heritage buildings that are constantly evolving.  But, until recently the process of doing development in the downtown had been governed by a set of 30-year-old land use rules. Recently, this changed when Council approved the new Downtown land use district or to be more accurate the CR20-C20/R20 District. Despite its somewhat awkward name, this district brings exciting new options to downtown developments.

Many large business owners desire tall skyscrapers with large office floor areas for their companies. Consequently, as the buildings grow larger and the downtown becomes even more active, The City strives to ensure the urban environment and public realm is improved as well. This is accomplished using an incentive density system. By providing public amenities, such as open spaces, public art and +15 bridges, a developer can obtain additional office floor area for a building. This has always been a key element of the old land use district.

However, with the new downtown land use district policy being approved a wide range of innovative items have been added to the menu.  First and foremost are incentives to promote residential development and an urban population. Residential buildings, family-size units, affordable housing and universally accessible units are promoted to Calgarians in an effort to enhance quality of life. As these developments are built, developers are rewarded with additional floor area if they provide space for uses such as daycares, supermarkets, fitness studios, schools and places of worship. Since visitors to the city add immensely to the local economy during, and after, normal business hours, significant incentives are now also provided for hotels.

Today, Calgarians have different expectations of urban environments then they did 30 years ago. That’s why incentive items have been introduced to promote green buildings, cycling facilities and more attractive transit stops.  Through new incentives, developers and architects are being encouraged to provide exceptional urban and architectural design to make the downtown a more walkable, memorable and appealing place.
The expectations and needs of developers, architects and landowners have changed too. That’s why one of the cornerstones of the project to create the new district was to include them in the conversation. Their input was used to ensure the new district works as well, or better, than the old district it is replacing.  The City planning team thanks all participants for their commitment to this project.

The new district goes into effect in June 2014. Although already approved by Council, time is required to allow ongoing developments to be completed before the new rules take over. New development proposals will, however, soon be using the new rules and incentives.

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