When a great deal of effort and thought are put into a policy document, there is a collective sigh of relief when it is complete. Something excellent and clear has been crafted out of chaos and good intentions, and it should be honored and utilized. However, it should also continue to grow and change as it is applied.
In the case of the Hillhurst/Sunnyside ARP, that document was the first of its kind to incorporate Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and has been held as a worthy precedent for other Inner-City Communities to work with the City of Calgary to create policy within their unique areas. The second half of the ARP is a special TOD section with a unique focus on density surrounding the CTrain station in Sunnyside. Much was debated, carefully negotiated and weighed over two years resulting in a guiding bylaw the Community could trust to govern the planning and development process for years to come.
However, the policies and guidelines that served as a clear map for development has failed to be updated as the challenges of implementing TOD have come forward through practical application. Many policies that should have been contemplated in the TOD were not finalized at the time of completion. This lack is easily forgiven in light of the magnitude of work that was needed to develop the first ARP document, however further work should have occurred continuously. Indeed, that was the intent outlined within the ARP itself: to make further decisions in the years to come. The best documents for policy are ‘living’ documents that accept and incorporate change with careful consideration.
Issues have come forward over the last decade that would speak to updating the Hillhurst/Sunnyside ARP , however the mechanism for those adjustments is underdeveloped. Small amendments are piggy-backed onto Land Use Re-designation and Development Permit applications, placing the cost and responsibility for policy changes onto the backs of single developments with individual Planners. This approach costs developers time and money, and often result in policy changes that are myopic in vision and under-resourced from a City planning perspective. Whereas good policy considers the larger picture of the community and area and involves many stakeholders and City departments, one-off amendments take significant time, but fail to balance many different needs of industry and community stakeholders.
Although the ARP is a Community created document, it is a City policy document that can only be adjusted through the Planning & Development application process. The Community cannot apply for changes to the ARP other than through developer’s applications. This is problematic on many fronts, but effectively makes the ARP a static document that goes mostly unchanged. The result is a patchwork of amendments to the ARP which (usually) only apply to the specific building in question and fail to provide larger solutions and adjustments that could improve the application of TOD greatly for the entire area.
A few examples of policy issues include:
- Heritage preservation is negotiated on a single-project basis without a matrix for evaluation or a policy for rewarding preservation;
- Parking policies are not adjusted for TOD considerations and handcuff developers that wish to provide essential service tenants like medical clinics;
- Requiring significant public parking within private buildings results in a loss of commercial tenant parking which makes leasing difficult; and
- Small-grain retail policy has proven to be a barrier for developers to attract stable, long-term anchor tenants to their buildings (such as medium-sized restaurants).
The result is multiple Change of Use and Land Use Re-designation applications from each major mixed-use development to correct the initial policy implementations in their Direct Control guidelines unique to each building. These multiple applications should be triggering a wholesale reconsideration of the TOD policies and available zoning bylaws, but the process to amend those policies is not in place for the Community. Admittedly, TOD is a relatively new policy, however the need to reevaluate the outcomes during practical implementation is lacking and the result is a waste of resources and lack of focus and clarity, which ultimately dissuades further development and creates uncertainty for developers.
Further, as the original TOD policies have not resulting in new bylaw zones, each redevelopment is re-zoned by way of an individual Direct Control (DC) guideline to grant the policies to developers. the use of DC guidelines has become ‘the norm’ in Hillhurst/Sunnyside to achieve TOD policies whereas they used to be very rare (and, usually, avoided). Generating an entirely new bylaw for each property is resource-draining and time-consuming, hence the reason standard bylaw zones are generally adhered to in other areas of the City.
As the list of practical issues and costs continue to grow, the overall impact is an erosion of the attractiveness of developing in a TOD area. Instead of being a short-track incentive for development, it appears more as a race with hurdles added at the end of the process. As the TOD policy was created to stimulate redevelopment, it begs the question: how much further should we travel down this path before we acknowledge we’ve made a few wrong turns and should re-evaluate the direction we are travelling? It seems prudent to reassess TOD policy sooner rather than later, especially given the intention to implement TOD as the CTrain expands in the years to come.