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Heritage conservation incentives and programs

Incentive programs are available to owners of properties listed on The City’s Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources to encourage the conservation of heritage buildings and sites. In exchange, the property owner agrees to designate (legally protect) their property.

Learn more about available incentives and conservation programs by clicking on the links below:

2019 - 2020 Conservation Tools and Incentives Work

At the direction of Council, The City is currently working to implement new policy tools and financial incentives to support heritage conservation. This includes additional grant funding for designated non-residential heritage resources, continued development of a proposed residential heritage tax credit program, and phased implementation of residential heritage area policies throughout 2021-2023.

As part of the project, a large-scale visual ‘windshield’ survey was undertaken across 26 communities, to identify where new heritage area policies may be appropriate. The 2019-2020 Heritage Asset Windshield Survey identified houses generally constructed before 1945 that substantially retain the identifiable historic architectural style, design, and details. A summary of the survey results is available for review.

The survey data will continue to be monitored, to account for changes resulting from demolition or redevelopment. In late 2020, volunteers with Calgarians for Heritage Districts coordinated an independent community audit of the survey data. Their results have been shared with The City, and will be reviewed by planning staff to help inform and strengthen our existing data.

On July 28, Council approved the following recommendations from the Heritage Conservation Tools and Incentives report:

  • A two-year phased program (2021-2023) to implement the heritage area policy tools (using the recommended thresholds) through the local area planning process, Land Use Bylaw amendments, or associated land-use re-designations.
  • Presentation of the proposed residential tax credit program to the Priorities and Finance Committee in 2022, for consideration in the 2023-2026 budget deliberations.

For more information please read the full report, it is available online.

As part of the mid-cycle budget adjustments, Council approved a $1 million increase to the Historic Resource Conservation Grant on November 26, 2020. For 2021 and 2022, the grant will be $1.5 million, with $1 million reserved to support non-residential heritage conservation projects. More information about this increase in funding can be found in the ‘Municipal grant’ section below.

Direct Control Heritage Areas

In July 2020, Council approved a new heritage area policy approach. It includes the option for property owners in select, heritage-rich residential areas to request the creation of Direct Control Heritage Areas.

A Direct Control Heritage Area is a unique set of Land Use District (zoning) rules for all properties in a defined area. Property owners participating in the pilot will work with Administration to identify what land use and architectural elements they want to preserve on their block. Rules will then be created to protect these elements. As redevelopment occurs, new developments will include these heritage elements, respecting the heritage character of the block.  

While heritage areas have been established in other Canadian cities, this will be the first time that we create Direct Control Heritage Areas in Calgary. Unlike other Direct Control districts, they will preserve the heritage character of blocks. As this is a new type of Direct Control, we are using a pilot to help us determine what the process will be to create one. 

Throughout 2021 we will be conducting a pilot to develop Direct Control Heritage Areas with select, qualifying property owners. We estimate that three to four Direct Control Heritage Areas will be presented to Council in Winter 2022. 

This community-driven opportunity will allow property owners the option to work with The City to establish a Direct Control Heritage Area, that will help conserve the historic context of their street as growth and change occurs. 

We’ve received many questions about the pilot and Direct Control Heritage Areas. Below are answers to some general questions, more detailed questions can be found in this Frequently Asked Questions document.

What is a heritage asset?

  • Privately-owned building constructed before 1945 (this pilot is focused on historic houses)
  • Retains most of its original style, design, details and construction materials (determined through a visual assessment)

What is a direct control district?

  • Land Use District (zoning) applied to a defined area.
  • Has a specific, unique set of allowable activities and development rules.
  • Each one has its own bylaw number that identifies a district.

What is a direct control heritage area?

A Direct Control Heritage Area is a Land Use District (zoning) for all properties in a defined area that includes a concentration of identified heritage assets.

The minimum size for a Direct Control Heritage Area is one side of a city block (block face). They must have the following attributes:

  • support the conservation of the heritage context of a block through specific architectural controls.
  • support conservation of individual heritage assets through some limits on redevelopment potential, without preventing demolition or compatible redevelopment.
  • consider the form, scale, and design of existing historic (pre-1945) houses.
  • protect a snapshot in time of the historic context of an area.
  • have at least 50 percent of the buildings on each block face identified as heritage assets
  • have the support of most property owners on each block face

If most property owners on a block face do not support a Direct Control Heritage Area, they will not be included in the pilot program or required to create a district in the future. They will still qualify for the Heritage Discretionary Guideline Area Policy that will be created through a Local Area Planning process.

What is the process to create a Direct Control Heritage Area?

A Direct Control Heritage Area can be initiated where most property owners along a block face want to pursue this opportunity.

This project is currently in a pilot phase prior to wider implementation and is not yet available to all areas with the applicable concentration of heritage assets.

Please refer to the included letter for instructions on how to participate in the pilot program.  There is no fee for property owners to participate, or to create a Direct Control Heritage Area.

What are Heritage Area policies?

Alongside existing heritage tools and financial incentives like grants, The City has developed a new approach to conserving Calgary’s heritage areas. These Heritage Area Policies are a set of three related tools, including Direct Control Heritage Areas, designed to increase the conservation of groups of related heritage assets. Individually, heritage assets may not qualify for Calgary’s Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources. However, they have collective significance as heritage places that are valued by many Calgarians.

More than one of these policies can be applied to the same geographic area as overlapping ‘layers’, depending on the identified concentration of heritage assets. Heritage area policies do not preclude the demolition of buildings (including heritage assets), or redevelopment in accordance with any applicable policy guidelines (Layer 2) or bylaw rules (Layer 3).

The Layer 1 Incentive Areas will be applied to all heritage assets in a community, regardless of concentration. Many heritage assets have been identified through a 2019 visual survey, and property owners may apply for additional sites at the time of a development application. These policies allow additional or relaxed development rules on a property where a heritage asset is retained. This may include allowing additional dwelling units (suites), conversion to light commercial activities, and more flexibility for additions to existing buildings. This layer will not impact properties that do not have an identified heritage asset.

The Layer 2 Discretionary Guideline Areas are created and applied through a Local Area Planning process. They will create development guidelines in portions of a community with moderate concentrations of heritage assets. New development in these areas will be subject to the guidelines through a discretionary application process. This includes properties with or without an identified heritage asset. The types of guidelines will reflect important general features of historic buildings in each area, such as roof shape or the presence of front porches. However, guidelines will not exclude row houses, multi-family, or other compatible innovative development.

Layer 3 Direct Control Heritage Areas are Council-approved Land Use Districts (zoning) for areas with a high concentration of heritage assets. Property owners will work with The City to create unique architectural controls and development conditions for all new development within the district. As with all three policy layers, Direct Control Heritage Areas will not restrict the demolition of Heritage Assets or prevent infill redevelopment.

How were the properies identified for Heritage area policies?

During 2019 and 2020, a visual survey of historic properties in 26 inner-city communities was completed. This resulted in over 4,000 homes from the pre-1945 period being identified as heritage assets.

Many of these properties are not listed on Calgary’s existing listing of places with assessed heritage value (the Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources) by Heritage Calgary. However, they are considered to have significance when they exist in proximity to other heritage assets from a similar development period.

In order to understand the concentration of heritage assets in Calgary, this survey data was analyzed by each (block face). In 2020, multiple scenarios were presented to City Council to balance the conservation of historic areas with other development factors.

The approach approved by Council allows Layer 2 Discretionary Guideline Areas to be applied to block faces with at least 25 per cent heritage assets. Block faces with at least 50 per cent heritage assets qualify for a Layer 3 Direct Control Heritage Area if requested by most of the impacted property owners.

Are there Direct Control Heritage Areas anywhere in Canada?

Yes, there are examples of Direct Control Heritage Areas in other cities across Canada. Each province has its own regulatory system for land use, so the rules are different across provinces. The closest example to what we are trying to achieve is the Westmount Architectural Heritage Area in Edmonton.

Some examples of Direct Control Heritage Areas are: 

  • Westmount Architectural Heritage Area, Edmonton
  • Cabbagetown Heritage Conservation District, Toronto
  • Schmidtville Heritage Conservation District, Halifax

Heritage grant programs

Conserving historic resources is an important part of sustainable city building. Heritage buildings create a sense of place and identity, showing the development of a city over time.

Heritage grants are programs offered under a variety of terms to help property owners sustain the costs associated with restoration, preservation and rehabilitation of historic properties. In Calgary, owners of historic resources can apply for municipal and provincial grants to support heritage conservation projects.

Municipal grants

To be eligible for a City of Calgary Historic Resource Conservation Grant, a property must be listed on The City’s Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources and be municipally designated (legally protected) or in the process of designation.

The grant program reserve is $500,000 per year and was increased by Council to $1.5 million per year for 2021 and 2022 on November 26, 2020. Of the funding, $1 million is reserved for non-residential properties and $500,000 is reserved for residential properties. The increase in funding will support conservation work on non-residential historic resources. Non-residential historic resources are typically multi-storey buildings with more complex conservation needs that require more funds to complete.

Due to the increase in funding, the program terms and conditions have been updated. Information on eligibility and the application process can be found in the current (​March 2021) ter​ms and conditions​.

Provincial grants

The Alberta Historical Resources Foundation maintains the Heritage Preservation Partnership Program to assist owners of designated (legally protected) heritage properties with the costs associated with restoration and maintenance. These programs must be applied for through the province.​​

Planning & Development incentives

Planning incentives are policy-based tools to help make conservation of Historic Resources a viable option for property owners in the context of redevelopment. These incentives draw from the Municipal Development Plan, the Developed Areas Guidebook, Area Redevelopment Plans for specific communities and the Land Use Bylaw.

Depending on the location and guiding policy, owners may be able to sell unused density through a Density Transfer Program, gain additional saleable density through re-zoning, or receive support for projects involving relaxations or alternative solutions that include the protection of a Historic Resource.​​

Density Transfer Programs

Density transfer is one of the tools used by The City to help achieve the Municipal Development Plan (MDP) goal of protecting Calgary’s heritage assets. In areas that have both a high potential for redevelopment and existing sites of heritage significance, allowing the transfer of development rights between properties in exchange for legal protection of the heritage asset can effectively balance city-planning objectives. Specifics of a transfer will vary depending on the location, but density transfers are intended to allow for financial support of heritage buildings, while allowing the target densities in an area to be achieved. In doing so, these programs provide a mutual benefit for heritage and non-heritage property owners.

How does heritage density transfer work?

In areas with density transfer policies, if the owner of a heritage asset agrees to legally protect it as a Municipal Historic Resource, they gain the ability to sell and transfer the unused development rights of the property to another site. These development rights are described as density (measured in Floor Area Ratio), and comprise the difference between how large the existing heritage asset is, and the maximum allowable size for a building on that property per the Land Use District (zoning). If they choose to perform City-approved conservation work on their historic building, owners can also generate additional density that can be transferred and sold from the site.

Once a heritage asset is legally protected and the amount of transferrable density is determined, the owner can sell all or a portion of that density to a new development site. In that transaction, the heritage asset is called the "source" site, and the new development site is called the "receiver" site.

Where in the city can heritage density transfers occur?

For details on Heritage Density Transfer Policies in a particular area, consult the Area Redevelopment Plan for your community or appropriate district in the Land Use Bylaw 1P2007. Currently, Beltline, Downtown, Hillhurst/Sunnyside, Sunalta and East Village allow for density transfer between a source (Municipal Historic Resource) and a receiver site within the same community/plan area boundary.

How much density does a Heritage asset have to transfer?

This will vary depending on the building area of the existing heritage asset and the allowable maximum developable area permitted by the local area plan and/or land use district.

When is the density transferred?

Density transfer is facilitated and formally tracked through a Land Use Amendment on both the source and receiving sites using a Direct Control District Bylaw. Where a receiving parcel does not require a Land Use Amendment for any other policy or bylaw reasons, their amendment to track the transfer of heritage density only is processed at no cost by The City.

When the Direct Control Bylaw is approved (the bylaw receives third reading) by City Council), the density is formally transferred to the receiving parcel and can be accounted for in a development permit. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the source parcel owner and receiving site owner to ensure their agreements consider this fact.

Where a receiving site is not owned by the intended developer of the lands at the time the Direct Control District Bylaw is passed, it is important to understand that the transferred density comes into effect as soon as the Direct Control District Bylaw is approved. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the source parcel owner, receiving site owner and party optioning to purchase the site for future development to ensure their agreements consider this fact.

How does one buy/sell heritage density?

The City establishes the policy and procedure for density transfer, which requires a Land Use Amendment for both source and receiver properties. The transaction for density is a market agreement between property owners, and The City is not involved in pricing or negotiations as to the payment terms and timeline(s) for the density.

Groups looking to acquire additional density engage directly with the owner of a heritage asset in the same plan area as their project site, and the two parties will reach a private agreement. The City has no responsibility to ensure payment or fulfillment of the conditions of the private agreement between the parties.  Furthermore, Land Use Amendments or other required development approvals may be refused or approved at the discretion of Council, Calgary Planning Commission or Administration. Parties that negotiate transfers before obtaining the necessary approvals do so at their own risk.

Other conservation incentives

There are a variety of additional planning incentives offered for retaining heritage buildings, including but not limited to:

For information about available incentives, please first consult the Area Redevelopment Plan, the rules of the Land Use District, and guiding policy documents including the Municipal Development Plan and Developed Areas Guidebook.

Please contact the Planning Services Centre​ for site-specific questions.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​


This information has no legal status and cannot be used as an official interpretation of the various bylaws, codes and regulations currently in effect. The City of Calgary accepts no responsibility to persons relying solely on this information. Web pages are updated periodically. ​