Community group steadfast in opposition to development

Model for densification doesn’t sit well with some

The Stadium Shopping Centre a typical strip mall of small independent businesses surrounding a worn parking lot in the northwest community of University Heights is the latest battleground in the war between redevelopment and locals fighting to preserve their community’s peaceful residential quality.

Real estate developer Western Securities has an Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP) in the works proposing to replace the current 6000-square-metre (64000-square-foot) strip mall and parking lot with 72500 square metres (780000 square feet) of multi-storey retail medical offices condos and a 200-room hotel.

Considering the University Heights Community Association (UHCA) won an appeal in 2006 halting Western Securities’ original plan to build a 25100-square-metre (270000-square-foot) mixed-use development on the site it’s no surprise that a proposal almost three times larger has got the locals’ dander up.

UHCA president Peter Khu is leading the charge against the current ARP. He says local residents agree Stadium Shopping Centre (SSC) built in 1962 should be redeveloped but only in proportion to the low-density neighbourhood in which it’s located.

In reviewing redevelopment policies for the area in 2008 the city planning department agreed. An August 2008 report to the Calgary Planning Commission stated “not to be undervalued the subject site’s relationship to the existing low-density residential communities to the north and west is central to any redevelopment of the site.”

Khu says city planning philosophies have changed since then which has him concerned. The current emphasis is on densification particularly in the urban core. While residents object to the concept of building a hub with floor space nearly equivalent to Market Mall’s on a landbase a fifth the size it appears to be exactly the kind of “urban activity centre” the new Municipal Development Plan is looking for.

Opponents to the project have filed multiple objections with the city yet Khu says none of their concerns have been meaningfully addressed. He also says the community consultations that did occur were vague and resulted in Western Securities and the city ignoring “just about everything that the residents would like to put forward…. Nothing came through” he says.

“The consultation it seems really was not open it’s not transparent and it wasn’t fair.”

Now time is running out on the community’s efforts to have the ARP scaled down. The city planning committee approved the ARP on June 6. It will be presented to council on July 22.

Desmond Bliek city planner with Calgary’s department of land use planning and policy says that while the final decision on the Stadium Centre redevelopment plan rests with city council aldermen may call a public hearing into the ARP. If they do Bliek says a hearing could delay a decision indefinitely.

“It drags on for as long as it takes which could be multiple meetings” says Bliek. He adds “we encourage people to participate in a public hearing like that as well so any member of the public can come down and speak.”

The UHCA has already retained lawyer Gerry Kruk. Khu estimates the association has raised $20000 from the public to pay for the potential legal battle.

Kruk also represented the community when it appealed the smaller ARP in 2006. He has submitted his concerns with the ARP to the city. In his submission he questions the proposal’s ambiguous language and the leeway it gives the developer to alter plans after approval. He also questions how traffic will be affected if road infrastructure doesn’t keep pace with the Stadium build and the city’s apparent disinterest in residents’ dissatisfaction.

“The draft ARP does not inform the readers of the very pertinent fact that a large majority of the residents of University Heights the community most directly affected by SSC redevelopment opposes the extremely high level of densification that is potentially permissible under the site’s C-2 zoning (i.e. 780000 sq feet with buildings up to 14 floors in height)” he writes.

The inevitable increase in traffic around SSC is a serious problem for residents. Uxbridge Drive is a residential street off of 16th Avenue N.W. It is the only road connected to the shopping plaza. Some fear adding hundreds of people to the relatively small centre will cause congestion headaches around their homes or require major infrastructure projects.

The city’s traffic assessment and the ARP note the project will only work if at least 11 upgrades are made to surrounding road and public transit infrastructure. Khu says the UHCA is not happy with large-scale redevelopment to begin with but is especially worried about what traffic in the neighbourhood will look like if the city and Western Securities fail to make the road upgrades the ARP relies on. He says for these reasons he and the UHCA will continue its open opposition to the project.

“Any community could be next” warns Khu. The Stadium Shopping Centre redevelopment plan “is a template for intensification and if it’s not done sensitive to the community it can have… very very serious consequences.”