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Large Commercial Urban Design Guidelines

The guidelines are intended to inform the industry as well as staff on the types of design features that will be considered as part of the discussion on development applications.

Large Retail / Commercial Area Urban Design Guidelines (updated version March 2016)

Supporting Information


The City developed urban design guidelines for large commercial sites. These are the shopping areas that usually consist of one or more large (commonly called “big-box”) stores surrounded by several smaller retail stores, cafes, restaurants, banks, gas stations and other facilities.

Urban design guidelines form the foundation for how City staff evaluate proposed private developments. They outline things such as how new buildings should be arranged on the property; how things like on-site streets, sidewalks, amenity spaces and parking lots should be laid out; and how new developments should be connected to the surrounding community.

The new guidelines apply throughout the entire city, except for the Centre City, and give direction for the development of new large commercial sites and for the redevelopment of existing ones.


The vision of the proposed large commercial urban design guidelines is to ensure that commercial development is happening in a way that is financially, environmentally and socially sustainable. Private retail sites in new communities are also increasingly becoming the place that people gather to socialize and recreate, so the design of these sites can play an integral role in setting the tone of a community and way we live our public lives.

The large commercial urban design guidelines provide consistent guidance to developers and City staff to help ensure that large commercial sites:

  • Create a pleasant public realm
  • Allow for safe pedestrian and bicycle movement to and within the site
  • Reduce the need for car travel to and within the site
  • Can be adapted for other uses or intensified (i.e. having more density added or a greater variety of development) in the future
  • Are sustainable

The Planning Process

The City developed the large commercial urban design guidelines through the following five phases:

  1. Phase 1: Create Project Charter and Engagement Plan

    City staff determined the goals of the proposed guidelines, identified stakeholders and planed for how to get input from those stakeholders.

  2. Phase 2: Research and Analysis

    City staff met with key stakeholders to assess their needs in November 2011 and began research on best practices for building large commercial sites.

  3. Phase 3: Develop Urban Design Principles and Objectives

    City staff held a workshop in January 2012 with members of Calgary’s development industry, design professionals, community association representatives, and local academics to discuss the objectives of the new guidelines (see our Workshop Summary).

    Three challenge workshops were then held between April and June 2012, with the goal of understanding how the development industry plans sites and how to identify urban design issues. The stakeholders involved were developers, retailers, consultants, the project team, and representatives from CPAG (an inter-departmental group of City staff). The results of these workshops were presented to stakeholders in July 2012.

    The City also hired Ipsos Reid to conduct a survey and visit large commercial sites with a focus group to capture the opinions of citizens. The results were also presented to stakeholders in July 2012.

    In September 2012, City staff held a focus group with representatives from the development industry and major retailers to get feedback on the specific design principles being considered for the large commercial urban design guidelines (see our focus group report).

  4. Phase 4: Develop Draft Urban Design Guidelines

    City staff have used the information gathered to date to write a first draft of the large commercial urban design guidelines.

  5. Phase 5: Final Revisions and Guideline Application

    After reviewing the feedback from stakeholders in phase 4 (see Supporting Information) the draft guidelines were finalized and presented on May 21, 2014 to the Urban Design Review Panel and on May 22 to the Calgary Planning Commission. The Guidelines, as they read today, will help achieve the Council approved Municipal Development Plan targets towards a more liveable and sustainable Calgary. Staff will be using them in discussing commercial development applications early in the process, to help guide property owners and developers towards the city building objectives of the MDP. Also industry will see consistent staff responses around design issues which will add clarity and help reduce processing times. Applicants are encouraged to consider and use the Guidelines for their projects.

Supporting Information and Documents


Lothar Wiwjorra
Senior Planner, Land Use Planning & Policy

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