Civic Affairs

Varsity Community Association’s Letter to Mayor Gondek and Members of City Council

Land Use Amendment Citywide, LOC2024-0017, and Land Use Bylaw Amendments

April 15, 2024

Mayor Gondek and Members of City Council City of Calgary
Calgary, Alberta

Re: Calgary’s Housing Strategy 2024-2030 – Land Use Amendment Citywide, LOC2024-0017, and Land Use Bylaw Amendments

Position of the Varsity Community Association

The Varsity Community Association believes the negatives outweigh the positives with respect to city-wide blanket upzoning and that the proposal is not in the best interests of the Varsity community or the city as a whole.

The potential negative impact of R-CG development on existing neighbouring properties is significant and warrants the continuation of the current public hearing process that allows those who are affected to present their concerns to Council.

We don’t believe the goal of increasing affordable housing for those in low income groups will be accomplished with this initiative. We believe Local Area Plans with meaningful community engagement and collaboration are a more appropriate way to determine the type and location of future density in a strategic, balanced, thoughtful, and sensitive manner.

We therefore oppose this amendment to the land use bylaw.

The Varsity Community Association has actively informed residents of this proposal through our community newsletter, emails, and two public meetings with over 300 people attending. Varsity residents have traditionally been keen to engage with planning, parks, and transportation issues and are generally open-minded and well informed. Awareness of planning issues is currently very high due to our participation in the on-going South Shaganappi Local Area Plan. Opposition to blanket upzoning is very strong.

The Varsity Community Association fully supports other solutions to creating more affordable housing for low income earners, in particular non-market or subsidized housing. We have supported a number of important initiatives, including the Attainable Homes project on Varsity Drive and the City’s affordable housing project under construction on 32 Avenue and 37 Street (48 units). We are also home to a subsidized seniors’ residence, Cathedral Manor. We believe incentivizing non-market housing is a more effective and faster way to increase affordable housing in Calgary.

City-wide blanket upzoning is a major shift in long-standing planning policy – increasing density through blanket upzoning throughout communities instead of targeted density around activity nodes and corridors. These long-standing policies have contributed to the development of our thriving neighbourhood.

Varsity has a very diverse and vibrant community with many different types of housing accommodating all income levels. Our schools are at capacity. We have 2 LRT stations and several commercial areas within our community that support a significant amount of density including 10 apartment buildings (6-12 storeys) and numerous 4 storey condo developments with more pending construction. 45% of our dwelling units are single family homes and these are highly desired housing forms in our community. The City states that rezoning will support more housing options in all communities. What about communities that already having a wide variety of housing options? Isn’t it important to also preserve the highly desirable RC-1 and RC- two choices in these communities?

The City considers rowhouses and townhouses to be low density residential development but public perception is quite different as most would see increasing density from 1 unit to 8-12 units as significant. Most people would also see increasing lot coverage to 60% as a very dramatic change to the pattern of development in their neighbourhood. The built form of rowhouses and townhouses is compatible in some areas but not all and it can dramatically change the character of the streetscape and community. R-CG or H-GO is not an unobtrusive and harmless type of development. The built form is substantially different than RC-1 or RC-2 given the much higher amount of lot coverage. That is the value in having a public hearing process – to evaluate the specifics of various land use applications and determine where this type of use works well and where it doesn’t.

Blanket upzoning assumes that R-CG and H-GO projects will always comply with Section 2.2.5 of the Municipal Development Plan which states “The City promotes infilling that is sensitive, compatible and complementary to the existing physical patterns and character of neighbourhood.” There are many areas where this type of infill is not compatible.

The Infill Guidelines states that “New development should be designed in a manner which is responsive to the local context” and that “New development should respect the existing scale and massing of its immediate surroundings.” Also, for placement of windows, “The privacy of adjacent residences should be respected”.

Rowhouses or townhouses that have 60% lot coverage are rarely sensitive to their immediate neighbours. Massing, overshadowing, lack of soft landscaping, on-street parking congestion, and lack of privacy are all major problems for neighbouring properties. Let’s remember that these are real people who are negatively impacted and sometimes devastated by development that occurs beside them. People cherish their back yards, gardens, and privacy. Having a rowhouse or townhouse built on the lot next door can be very damaging to quality of life and property values. I have permission to share these comments from an affected home owner.

Statement of a Homeowner Impacted by R-CG:

 “I’ve been living in my home since 2006. I purchased my home because I loved the community, the trees, the neighbours and lovely sunlight and privacy I had in my backyard and on my deck to enjoy the south facing view of the trees. This new enormous development has blocked the sunlight in my backyard and now it’s cold and full of shade by 4 pm. I have no privacy in my backyard anymore as there are several windows that overlook right into my yard from above. I don’t feel comfortable being out on my back deck as people can stare at me. I have no view of the skyline or trees anymore as the development takes up the entire lot next to me. It’s a horrible sight and feels very cold and sterile and is way over-built for the lot and doesn’t fit with the neighbourhood. I’m not sure what impact it will have on my property value but I’m sure I will have a hard time selling now. I no longer want to live here and will be listing my house. I just don’t feel comfortable here anymore and can no longer enjoy my home the way I want to. It’s incredibly disappointing and I’m very unhappy with Council’s decision. I would have welcomed a semi-detached home. This development is ridiculous and didn’t need to happen.”

The City has stated “missing middle” housing will allow seniors to age in place, however, R-CG and H-GO has too many flights of stairs to be suitable for seniors and others with mobility issues. It isn’t a desirable built form for most families due to the stairs and lack of amenity space. It is a style of housing that is more suited to young, healthy individuals, a very specific demographic. The bungalows that are torn down to make way for rowhousing are often the most accessible and affordable housing options in the community.

Blanket upzoning has been compared to the secondary suite issue but this deliberately minimizes the very real and severe impact of R-CG development. There is no comparison between the two issues. The Varsity Community Association was not opposed to the legalization of secondary suites but we are very concerned with the impact of R-CG on our stable, well-maintained single family areas. Current and prospective home owners want certainty about what can be built beside them especially given the significant time and money spent in making a house into their home. These are legitimate concerns. Blanket upzoning is not strategic and sensitive planning.

The 2021 Affordable Housing Deficit spreadsheet indicates there is no housing deficit for those with medium or high incomes. We realize the housing market has continued to rise putting pressure on all income groups, however, people in the Low or Very Low Income categories have the greatest need for affordable housing and only more non-market housing will meet that need. Blanket upzoning and increased density does not create the type of affordable housing that is needed by these individuals.

Land Use Redesignation Public Hearings

 Essentially the only difference between blanket rezoning and the status quo is the elimination of the public hearing.

The City has stated this would shorten the approval process but that should not disenfranchise the public. The right of affected persons to be heard by their elected representatives is a fundamental and essential part of the democratic process. Employees of the City are not directly accountable to the public for their review and decisions. Without a public hearing, there is no incentive for a developer to work with the neighbours to improve the project. Delegating the decision making process to City administration will result in less meaningful engagement and create greater dissatisfaction with the redevelopment process.

Permitted vs Discretionary Use

 It is very important that R-CG and H-GO be classified as discretionary uses if the amendment to the land use bylaw passes as affected neighbours must have the ability to appeal to SDAB.


Although this does not affect Varsity directly, we believe parks in older communities that are zoned RC-1 should be rezoned to S-SPR instead of R-CG.

Lack of Engagement

 While the City held several open houses, engagement has been lacking. Many people are still unaware of the proposal and its potential impact on them and their communities. Best planning practices include extensive and thoughtful consultation with the public with a genuine desire to listen and engage.

Other Options

 There has been little or no discussion of alternatives to blanket upzoning to R-CG. Why was blanket upzoning to RC-2 not been considered? This option would double or quadruple density without causing the issues associated with 60% lot coverage. Allowing both secondary suites and laneway suites also triples density without increasing lot coverage. Land trusts, cooperative housing, and other alternatives should have been considered in consultation with the public and stakeholder groups. Surely, with all the other land available for development, blanket upzoning to R-CG is unnecessary and excessive.

Yours truly,
Jo Anne Atkins
Director of Civic Affairs
Varsity Community Association