Good news for Calgary’s Heritage! New City Policy Approved

The Heritage Conservation Tools and Incentives Report recommendations passed both the Standing Policy Committee on Planning and Urban Development (PUD) July 15 and City Council on July 27-28, albeit by very narrow margins. Years of advocating/collaboration, and an impressive effort on the part of Administration are coming to fruition with this critical 1st step.

The Report included:

1. A two-year phased program (2021-2023) to implement the heritage area policy tools (districts), using the recommended thresholds for determining the appropriate layer for residential block faces. Implementation is based on 4,000 residential heritage assets identified in a windshield survey conducted by the City in 2019-20 and use an additive, layered approach.

Layer 1 – ‘Incentives Areas’: additional permitted & discretionary uses (e.g. higher density, parcel width, lot coverage, reduced parking requirements, expedited approvals) for all identified heritage assets to be incorporated into the Land Use Bylaw. Development of these amendments is anticipated in Q4 2020/Q1 2021.

Layer 2 – ‘Discretionary Guideline Areas’ where all uses are discretionary and area-specific discretionary design guidelines e.g. (roof pitch, massing, fenestration, materiality, etc.) apply to all building types in the policy area. Areas are defined by 25%-49% heritage assets on a block face. This work is applied through the Guidebook and Local Area Plans, and so is unlikely to proceed until Q1 2021.

Layer 3 – ‘Direct Control Heritage Areas’ where context specific architectural and development controls (massing, setbacks, roof pitch, materiality, landscaping, etc.) are applied to all properties within an area that has 50%-100% heritage assets per block face. This is anticipated as the first phase of work (Q3/Q4 2020) and will proceed soon (resource dependent).

CHI, through its collaborator, Calgarians for Heritage Districts, will assist by:
• fostering support for the new heritage area policy within our communities.
• providing unique support in helping to refine the 2019-2020 windshield survey. While the results of that survey are representative of the as-defined heritage assets in those areas, the large scope of the project (26 communities) would benefit from further review, particularly as ongoing changes made to these houses will impact their consideration.

There is no heritage area policy proposed for Main Streets at this time, however the City’s Heritage Planners will continue policy work to protect non-residential assets. The recent decision regarding approval of an application for a modern tower project on Inglewood’s historic 9th Avenue is an example of why such policies are so necessary to ensure contextual redevelopment while protecting heritage assets.

2. Approval of a $2 million increase to the City-wide Historic Resource Conservation Grant. Increasing the grant from $500,000 to $2.5 million, with $2 million reserved for non-residential conservation projects and $500,000 reserved for residential conservation projects – the $2M increase will need to pass budget deliberations in November. CHI considers this incentive as a major first step in the protection of non-residential, privately-owned heritage assets.

3. Consideration of a residential tax credit as part of the 2023-2026 budget deliberations.

For more information, visit the City’s Heritage Conservation Incentives and Programs page

An example of why these policies are so necessary is a proposed Development Permit to replace the Heritage Inventoried 1911 Rossmore Apartments and adjacent brick home on 2nd St SW, pictured above. Chris Edwards, heritage advocate extraordinaire, has produced a great little video describing the impact of the loss, how it will erode the integrity of this 2nd St. block face, and resulting implications for eligibility for heritage tools and incentives, using the layered approach to define heritage policy areas, that was just passed by City Council. Read CHI’s submission here: CHI Comment – DP2020-2909

It should be noted that City policies in place at the time an application is submitted by a developer apply which means an undesignated building can be demolished, regardless of it being listed on the inventory. This is why CHI has been advocating for stronger policies.  Until the new heritage area policies, tools and incentives that were approved by Council in July are implemented, we can expect to see continued losses of this type.

Guidebook for Great Communities – Administration’s Option #1 recommendations were also approved at Council on July 27 – 28. The Guidebook will undergo revisions, along with the North Hill Plan (first pilot multi-community area plan) and will return to Council by January 2021. Nine items are to be addressed: community character; parks & open space frontage; rework and better integration between urban form typologies & Municipal Development Plan typologies; on-street parking; urban tree canopy; heritage tools & incentives; climate change; additional policy guidance for housing forms in specific areas (low density residential areas); scale modifications – enabling a local area plan to modify the maximum number of stories in an assigned scale category. A scoping project for the new land use bylaw (affecting low-density districts) will also be developed for the January 2021 Council meeting.

Over the past few years, CHI actively participated as a heritage stakeholder in the City-led engagement on these initiatives. CHI supported Administration’s recommendations on all three items that passed PUD and City Council in July 2020. Read our latest letter of support, CHI Submission to Council July 27 2020. CHI plans to promote public awareness  to garner support for these initiatives as they move through the refinement and approval processes. Public support in turn influences political will. Its particularly challenging to move heritage policy forward in times of economic decline or uncertainty, however investment in heritage is anticipated to assist in the City’s economic recovery.