Is bigger better?

September 1, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

WHO COULD HAVE KNOWN that Calgary would grow by leaps and bounds so quickly? Who would have thought that Bowness, once considered the edge of the wilderness, would become part of the inner city? Next time you’re driving around in your car or travelling by bus through Parkdale, West Hillhurst or Point Grey, take a good look at the way properties have been subdivided to allow for massive infill, duplex and townhouse developments. Montgomery is experiencing this now, too, and Bowness is beginning to see more and more of the same type of development.

Here’s the dilemna that the BCA’s Planning and Development Committee faces: Bowness is full of aging homes and is ripe for new development. Our Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP) supports a vision of Bowness as a low-density, family-oriented community. On the other hand, Calgary’s rapid growth and urban sprawl present challenges that can only be solved by some form of higher density.

What we are seeing is an increasing number of applications for subdivision of properties with the intention of straddling the subdivided property with a massive duplex, or putting very large single-family infills on each of the newly subdivided lots. Most of the original properties in Bowness have at least a 50-foot-wide frontage; many are even larger. The City’s guidelines allow most properties to be subdivided down into 25-foot-wide lots. The Land Use Bylaw also has a concept called “contextual.” That is, new developments should fit the context of the neighbourhood. Clearly, this leaves a lot of room for discretionary decision-making. Many of the new homes in Bowness are very attractive, but some are huge fortress-like structures that shade neighbouring houses, create privacy issues and disrupt the street front. Hard to imagine leaning over the back fence to exchange the time of day with the neighbours in these buildings.

It may be a controversial point of view, but this writer believes that sustainable higher density means more people on a smaller footprint, not bigger homes on smaller lots. Research by one of our committee members has turned up the interesting information that most Bowness properties have a caveat on them dating back to John Hextall’s days as the original developer of Bowness. This caveat says no more than one single-family dwelling can be built on a 50-foot frontage. The City no longer recognizes these caveats, but they may be upheld in a court of law. The problem is, where do we draw the line? Can we afford to go to court? What is a reasonable, sustainable and attractive addition to the neighbourhood, and what isn’t? Do we need to update our ARP? Bowness and many other established Calgary communities are asking these questions, and we’re trying to develop guidelines that work.

The City’s Planning and Development department looks to us for feedback. So your opinion really does count! It also matters to property owners and developers, who appreciate knowing what a community will support and who like to work with the neighbourhood to achieve mutually beneficial results. We welcome your involvement, and invite you to attend one of our Planning and Development committee meetings or to be in touch with us with your questions, concerns and feedback at mybowness@gmail.com.

—Niki Smyth

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