I care deeply about the future of Calgary’s Chinatown, and respect its rich history. Many Chinatowns across North America are struggling to survive and that is not something I am willing to let happen in Calgary. A unique, vibrant, and resilient Chinatown that celebrates its heritage and culture is in the best interests of all Calgarians.
A land-use application to rezone a large surface parking lot has sparked a valuable conversation on the future of Chinatown. When the application came to City Council earlier this year, my colleagues and I recognised the application was not appropriate. We then initiated a comprehensive City-led engagement process to determine what Chinatown stakeholders love about their community and what they want to see improved. The work by City Administration also included work on an Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP) scoping report. Together, there was the expectation that the application would be amended to better reflect Chinatown values, and that the scoping report would set the stage for a full ARP review.
What engagement was done?
• City Administration conducted extensive engagement that included on-street pop-up sessions, walking tours, open houses, workshops, a special workshop for Chinatown seniors, and interviews with key stakeholders. You can read more about the engagement here: engage.calgary.ca/planningchinatown
Who was engaged?
• Residents, businesses, visitors, cultural groups, seniors groups, and other organisations were encouraged to participate. Translation services were provided throughout the process. Everyone was welcome and no one was excluded.
What did people say?
• People who care about Chinatown want to see new development that enhances the unique cultural, residential, retail, and design character of Chinatown. You can read the full report here: engage.calgary.ca/planningchinatown
What is wrong with the current ARP?
• The current ARP is thirty years old and no longer serves or protects the community. Not only is the ARP inconsistent with modern planning principles and real estate economics, it does not guarantee the unique character of Chinatown that was so important to stakeholders.
• The ARP does not ensure that developments will have residential units, retail size restrictions, human-scaled podiums, or streetscape improvements.
Can’t applicants develop under the current ARP?
• Modelling indicates that the rules in the current Chinatown ARP are unlikely to promote redevelopment. Because of current real estate economics, the ARP zoning makes redevelopment financially and technically unlikely. Most, if not all, applications will require rezoning and ARP changes. This means that if only applications fitting the current ARP are allowed, no new development in Chinatown is likely. This is a virtual freeze until a new ARP is in place in several years time.
• Even if applicants propose developments under the current ARP, there is no guarantee those developments will benefit Chinatown or meet the expectations conveyed by stakeholders during engagement.
What did engagement participants say about the land-use application?
• Participants wanted to see tower/podium height changes to address shadowing and streetscape concerns, the removal of less desirable uses such as bottle depot and hotel, design character preservation, and smaller “mom-and-pop” retail bay sizes. Most importantly, stakeholders wanted a guarantee for residential units to help bolster the local retail community.
What happens next?
• The ARP scoping report will return to Council on December 5th. Administration will recommend a full ARP review, including a cultural plan, over the coming years. I will encourage my Council colleagues to support that work.
• The land-use application will return to Council on December 5th for a public hearing and a decision. Administration has prepared proposed amendments to the land-use application that reflect the aspirations of engagement participants. These include new tower height limits, podium height limits, retail bay size restrictions, the removal of less desirable uses, Asian design motifs, contributions to the Chinatown Improvement Fund through density bonusing, and a guaranteed residential component. Administration is also recommending a concurrent Development Permit. That means Chinatown stakeholders will be able to see and comment on the actual proposed building design prior to a final decision on the land-use.
• Council will consider the land-use amendments, along with feedback at the public hearing on December 5th, when deciding to approve, amend, delay, or refuse the land-use application. I hope my colleagues will join me in making decisions that promote a stronger and even better Chinatown.
For the success and resiliency of Chinatown, it is essential that new development happens. Empty lots are hurting Chinatown and the current ARP does not guarantee those lots will be developed to the benefit of Chinatown. This means changes to current zoning and to the ARP are required. It is my sincere believe that careful and specific changes to the ARP are necessary to ensure new developments contribute to and strengthen the unique cultural, residential, retail, and design character of Chinatown.
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This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Ward Councillor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.