The protection of historic resources requires enabling legislation, policies, bylaws, incentives, and citizen engagement. In 2020, the City of Calgary greatly added to its toolkit for heritage conservation while revamping its process for planning for growth in developed communities. Learn about these new initiatives, the tools that have been in place for some time, and how other cities protect their heritage.
Districts with Heritage
Policies for Heritage Districts
What makes a heritage district? Areas with a sense of history, where historic characteristics dominate might qualify for heritage district status. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Together, the buildings, the parks, the streetscapes, the architecture, the materials, the human and natural history are what make a heritage district. Preservation efforts succeed best when they build upon foundational planning principles that address landscape, architecture, and social living together, respecting the spirit of place.
Legal protection of heritage districts is increasing around the world. Most major cities in Canada (Montreal, Halifax, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver) encourage conservation through the use of heritage district/area bylaws. Toronto has dozens of districts protected or in the process of being designated. Winnipeg recently protected its first residential area, with more in the works.
Alberta’s Historical Resources Act allows for the designation of historic districts at both the provincial and municipal levels. Neither form of designation has been used extensively. Policies and procedures have not yet been established to help guide these protective measures. The two Provincial Historic Areas (Old Strathcona and Fort McLeod) established boundaries for the areas, but management and protection of the area remains with the municipality. While the Historical Resources Act does allow the province to enact regulation to manage the area, this has not been pursued to date.
Municipal Historic Area designations can be approved by municipal governments. There are a handful of Municipal Historic Areas in Alberta, all of which are limited to municipally-owned lands.
Owner consent is required to register any sort of regulation against private land. Both private and publicly held lands can be included in a heritage area designation. The determination of what lands are to be included is informed by the heritage values and character-defining elements of the area. Under the Historical Resources Act, municipalities must compensate owners for any loss in economic value resulting from designation. This requires negotiations with property owners and creates a challenging situation for designating historic districts that may include numerous privately-owned properties.
As of July 2020, Calgary Council directed the implementation of heritage area policy tools, including the use of direct control (DC) bylaws on a block face with at least 50% heritage assets amongst its buildings and where the majority of property owners consent to the proposed DC. While these DC bylaws for residential streetscapes are a promising first step, there is still significant work to be done by City Heritage Planning, the Government of Alberta and heritage advocates to enable designated heritage districts to exist in this province.
In other provinces, heritage districts protect elements on both public and private lands within a defined area boundary, including:
- Public parks and landscaping
- Architectural details such as roof pitch, window placement, and porches
- Height, massing and density of new development
- Patterns of streetscape such as setbacks, sidewalks and fencing on main streets, boulevards and roads
- Heritage trees and landscaping patterns
- Buildings for residential, commercial, institutional and industrial uses.
The main benefits of heritage districts are:
- Planning: to ensure that future development compliments the character of the neighbourhood or district.
- Environmental: districts encourage the retention and continued use of existing buildings thus reducing demolition, landfill waste and greenhouse gas emissions from new builds.
- Economic: research shows that property values tend to rise in heritage districts because they offer stability and predictability that make owners more confident to buy and improve properties in the area. Citizens throughout the city, as well as tourists, are more likely to visit and patronize areas with distinctive historic character. (See references below.)
Calgary has many informal heritage “districts”, some with clusters of historically significant and designated buildings, concentrated in about 10% of Calgary’s some 200 communities.
Explore some examples of protected heritage districts from other cities.
Further Reading on the Economic Benefits of Heritage Districts for Property Owners:
Civicplan. 2017, July 18. The Economic Value of Heritage. Civicplan’s Urban Insights Bulletin.
Hulley, Richard. 2016, Nov. “The Rise of Heritage Conservation Districts,” OREA Newsletter.
Lowe, Shirley. 2017. Measuring the Value of Heritage Preservation in Edmonton.
Rypkema, Donovan. 2013. “Heritage Conservation and Property Values.” In: The Economics of Uniqueness: Investing in Historic City Cores and Cultural Heritage Assets for Sustainable Development, edited by Guido Licciardi and Rana Amirtahmasebi, 107–42. Urban Development Series. Washington, DC: World Bank Publications.
Shipley, Robert and Kayla Jonas Galvin. 2009. “Heritage Conservation Districts Work,” University of Waterloo.
Streetscapes with Heritage
What makes a good street? What are your favourite streets in the city? Why? Policies for Streetscapes with Heritage
In July 2020, City Council approved a two-year program (2021-2023) to implement “heritage area policy tools” that will provide incentives to retain Calgary’s historic streetscapes. The program considers residential block-faces, that is one side of a street between two street corners or other geographic boundaries. The level of control exercised is relative to the percentage of heritage assets found on the block face:
- where 25%–49% of properties on one side of a block are heritage assets: design guidelines apply to all properties (including non-heritage) within the identified streetscape, implemented through a local area plan. All new construction is discretionary, requiring design review.
- where 50% or more of properties on one side of a block are heritage assets: eligible as a direct control district (requiring “majority” owner consent) defining mandatory restrictions and allowances for properties (including non-heritage assets).
These discretionary or mandatory guidelines could relate to massing, roof pitch, windows, setbacks or materials, for example. A heritage asset is defined as a residential building generally constructed prior to 1945 with historic stylistic architectural value, substantially retaining original design and features, and reflecting a pattern of historic development in an area. Notably, heritage assets may not qualify for the Inventory as an individual property. Their heritage significance is tied to them being part of a concentration of similar sites.
Read more about Calgary’s “heritage area tools and incentives” tools to protect streetscapes.
Beautiful streetscapes are more than just rows of carefully placed, distinctive homes. In the early 1900s, William Pearce developed a vision for Calgary where natural features would be protected, and he emphasized the benefits of trees and parks in the urban environment. William Reader, in his role as Calgary’s parks superintendent (1913-1942), furthered Pearce’s vision. His legacy endows us with extensive boulevard plantings, influenced by the City Beautiful movement. Reader also developed some of Calgary’s most beloved parks, including Central Park, Prince’s Island, and Riley Park.
Reader’s horticultural expertise, reflected in boulevard and median plantings, have endured and delighted for over 100 years. Original plantings on tree-lined streets still exist today, found in some of Calgary’s oldest neighbourhoods: Bridgeland, Cliff Bungalow Mission, Crescent Heights, Elbow Park, Elboya, Hillhurst, Inglewood, Mount Royal, Ramsay, Rosedale and Scarboro. There are 27 streetscapes listed on the Inventory, which were identified in Reader’s work plans. Crews that worked with Reader likely continued planting on adjacent streets, but only the streets with historical documentation have been designated, Garden Crescent being the first one. “Calgary’s street trees are now recognized as one of her greatest assets in point of beauty.” The Calgary Parks department has laid out a conservation plan for these historic streetscapes called “Conserving Calgary’s Historic Streets.”
Municipal Designation of Private Property
Why would anyone want to designate their property as a municipal historic resource? What’s in it for me? For people who choose to designate, it usually boils down to a pride, a sense of stewardship and a love for heritage. Designation helps ensure that future generations have ties to Calgary’s past by interacting with historic buildings. You would be doing your part to help maintain the character of an historic area. You would also be contributing to environmental sustainability by preventing demolition, thereby reducing landfill and greenhouse gas emissions.
From an investment perspective, designation makes sense because it can help to offset some of the financial burden of owning an older home. The funds available through The City’s Historic Resource Conservation Grant Program assist property owners in addressing certain issues that can accumulate over the years with an older structure. All funding is offered as a matching grant. The Province also offers a Heritage Preservation Partnership Program.
In 2022, a new residential tax credit for designated properties will be considered by City Council as part of 2023-2026 budget deliberations. Depending on the area and specific property conditions, additional incentives may be available for designated heritage sites, including density transfers and bylaw relaxations (for more information, see links below).
It’s important to note that protection only applies to certain parts of a heritage building, as agreed to by the designating property owner. Perhaps the porch of a Craftsman home or the board-and-batten on a Tudor-Revival are deemed to have historic significance. However, original fir floors that can’t be refinished could be excluded. Non-historic elements are typically excluded from designation. Once designated, the owner and the future purchaser are not able to demolish, and cannot significantly alter the regulated portions without City approval. The building could change in use, however, and additions are permitted as long as the designated elements are retained.
Would designation make my property less attractive on the real estate market? Research shows that in some markets, designated heritage homes can actually increase in value faster than other properties and hold their value during market slumps. The limited supply of heritage homes can make them a particularly desirable asset to certain buyers, giving them a unique position in the real estate market.
First Steps – the Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources
The first step in designating your property is contacting Heritage Calgary to express an interest in having your property evaluated and added to the Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources. Have you ever wondered about the history of your building? Who built it? Who lived or worked there? This information will be uncovered during the evaluation process.
The Inventory is maintained by Heritage Calgary, a Civic partner of the City of Calgary, led by a Council-appointed Board. To date, nearly 900 heritage sites have been evaluated and are formally acknowledged to have significant heritage value, with more added each year. About 11% (just over 100 sites) are protected by the City and another 5% by other levels of government.
To learn more about the designation of historic properties in Calgary, check out the following resources:
1. Heritage Calgary’s step-by-step process
2. Calgary Heritage Initiative’s past presentations on ‘Demystifying Designation’
3. City of Calgary Heritage Planning overview of the designation process
4. Government of Alberta Heritage Preservation Partnership Program
To find out more about incentives related to the designation of historic properties:
1. Funding through the City’s Historic Resource Conservation Grant Program
2. Funding through the Province’s Heritage Preservation Partnership Program
3. Density transfers and bylaw relaxations, along with other incentives
To learn about personal designation stories in Calgary, click here.
Photos of designated properties courtesy of the Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources (calgary.ca)
Local Area Planning (LAP)
Policies for Local Area Planning
The City of Calgary is changing the way local area plans are being created. The new approach offers a simplified framework for creating multi-community local area plans, making efficient use of infrastructure and enabling the growth of a compact city. The Guide for Local Area Planning directs how communities will change over time, and support the target in the Municipal Development Plan to accommodate 50% of Calgary’s new population growth within developed areas of the city over the next 60 to 70 years. A renewed land use bylaw that includes new districts for low density residential, will be considered by Council in 2022-2023.
An estimated 42 local area plans (LAPs) will be created to guide growth and change across the city. These plans would each include approx. 10 to 15 communities. Policies used to create these plans are intended to enable communities to express their unique character and history to guide contextual redevelopment. This is why public engagement in the development of area plans is so essential. Community-specific policies are important for ensuring the “fit” between old and new development. Guidelines, for example, might encourage porches or high roof pitches or front yards with landscaping to respect local streetscape patterns on nearby properties. The LAPs will replace existing statutory and non-statutory plans such as Area Redevelopment Plans (ARPs), Area Structure Plans (ASPs) and Design Briefs, many of which have design guidelines for reinforcing heritage character and the sense of history in a community. Architectural, urban and natural features contribute to a feeling of local identity and sense of place. Maintaining these unique features is vital to inner-city communities.
The new local area plans are built upon the Calgary Municipal Development Plan, the Calgary Transportation Plan and the best practices in the Guide for Local Area Planning, which is the toolkit for implementation. “A local area plan (LAP) encapsulates a future vision for the area and provides development direction that residents, landowners, builders/developers, City Planners and Councillors can commonly refer to…” – City of Calgary. LAPs take about 12-24 months to complete through a collaborative and iterative process. Five local area plans involving more than 50 communities have commenced as of 2020, however two of these were put on hold due to the pandemic. Go to the City’s website to read more about Local Area Planning.
The toolkit for LAPs includes policies to conserve streetscapes with a concentrated grouping of heritage assets. A heritage asset is defined as a privately-owned structure typically constructed prior to 1945 that significantly retains the original form, scale, massing, window/door pattern, and architectural details or materials. Many individual heritage assets do not qualify for inclusion in the Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources. Their heritage significance is tied to being part of a geographic concentration of similar sites.
Adaptive Reuse and Heritage Density Transfer
Balancing heritage conservation with the necessary renewal of aging buildings and infrastructure, all while accommodating growth, is challenging indeed! Often our smaller to medium scale heritage buildings are located on corridors and commercial streets where market demand for redevelopment is greatest. These buildings may once have been used for a purpose no longer needed in the inner-city. A warehouse might become apartment lofts, school rooms could convert to offices, or a factory might be transformed into an event space. This is called adaptive reuse. Explore some of Calgary’s great “New Uses for Old Buildings” here.
One incentive to retain heritage in redevelopment is called “heritage density transfer or bonusing”. If an owner opts to retain and designate a heritage resource, they may transfer (sell) the undeveloped potential of their site to allow another property to exceed the allowable density specified by the zoning requirements of the land use by- law. Think of the empty air space above a 3-storey heritage building that could have a 12-storey building erected on the site if the heritage building were demolished. That unused density could be transferred (sold) to allow a new building nearby to exceed the-12 story maximum allowed by the land use bylaw. So the two sites together achieve the maximum density for the combined parcels. The owner of the heritage building receives a financial benefit from the potential of their property without needing to demolish it in order to realize that gain.
The specifics of the density transfer can be negotiated between the City and developer. For example, The Arriva condo building in Victoria Park became the tallest residential building in Alberta when it was completed in 2007 because the developer committed to restore and preserve the Victoria Park School, which occupies the same site. Completed in 1912, it was one of the many schools built to accommodate Calgary’s rapidly growing population during the city’s pre-World War I boom. The Edwardian architecture is typical of the historic Paskapopo sandstone schools found among Calgary’s older neighbourhoods. The juxtaposition of the Victoria Park School against the towering condos reminds us of Calgary’s past and present.
A local area plan, such as some existing Area Redevelopment Plans (ARP) or the new multi-community Local Area Plans may include density bonusing policies for specific areas. A formula for calculating the amount of the bonus should be established at the time of plan development, as would the use of the contribution. For example, it could be applied to a community investment fund, ideally to protect local heritage, especially where an undesignated but inventoried heritage resource is demolished. A fundamental principle of density bonusing in Calgary is that the area receiving the additional density should also be the area receiving the amenity benefit. It is therefore important that the LAP process, with resident input, identify eligible buildings for preservation, ensure that the appropriate level of bonusing is in place given the target density to be achieved, and that the intended use of the bonus is established.
In Fall of 2020, The City of Calgary approved a $1 million, cost shared, non-residential Historic Resource Conservation Grant in 2021 and 2022 with annual base funding to be increased to $2 million in 2023 and beyond. This grant may be available to owners of designated heritage resources, with specified limits. The grant covers some of the costs associated with restoration and adaptive reuse. Often, the revenue potential of the site could be greater if the heritage resource was demolished and the site was redeveloped to the maximum allowed by the land use by-law.
The City is currently reviewing funding tools and investment strategies that will support evolution and change in our communities.
Generally, density transfer/bonusing is not appropriate for low density residential neighbourhoods. For example, communities are not likely to support high density infills next to a designated single-detached home because of the impact on the streetscape.