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Richmond residents cite density, traffic concerns with Viscount Bennett High School development proposal

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A major development proposed to replace Viscount Bennett High School aims to accommodate up to 2,500 dwellings, but residents of Richmond in southwest Calgary are expressing concerns.

The former public school building was constructed in the 1950s and is located just west of Crowchild Trail at 2501 Richmond Rd. S.W.

It has sat vacant and boarded up since 2018.

It was last occupied by Chinook Learning Services and after the continuing education program was closed, the 11.5-acre parcel of land was purchased by Minto Communities with the intent of redeveloping the area into multi-residential housing.

On Nov. 15, the developer submitted a land-use redesignation to the City of Calgary to rezone the site from RC-1 to M-H1, M-H2 and M-H3, which would allow for more densification than is currently permitted.

Early renderings of Minto's concept show 11 multi-family residences ranging from four to six storeys tall on the south side of the site.

A high-rise tower on the northeast corner facing Crowchild Trail S.W. is also being proposed and could be upward of 30 storeys tall.

This added influx is currently not sitting well with residents like Storm Purdy, who describes the development proposal as "excessive densification."

Purdy represents a group of 100 Richmond residents opposed to Minto's application.

He notes he was aware the site was slated for redevelopment at some point but feels like this plan goes too far.

The site is located at a dead end with the only thoroughfares into and out of the community located at Richmond Road and 26th Avenue.

"They're looking at putting 10,000 people in this square footage of property, which is the equivalent to the size of Banff in an 11.5-acre site," Purdy said.

"If you look at 2,500 units, we're also probably looking at somewhere between 2,500 and 5,000 cars coming into this area because everybody's going to have a car and these people are going to have a car at some point in the process."

Storm Purdy, who describes the development proposal as 'excessive densification.'

Purdy adds that most of the park space in the area will also be taken up by this development and he expressed frustration of a lack of engagement.

"We've seen nothing. Minto has done nothing from an engagement perspective. They called us to an open house, they also did a virtual one, which was shut down to sort of just give chat-type comments," Purdy said.

"We actually had to hijack their open house here to voice our concerns, but they weren't planning on having us voice our concerns in the open house. We just sort of walked in and said, 'Here's how it's going to go down,' because we need to get our voices out there."

The City of Calgary has now opened its comment period for feedback on the proposed development, which will accept responses until Dec. 27 and residents like Purdy hope their concerns are listened to.

"The No. 1 word is 'outrageous' and most people are angry, they are concerned about density, they're concerned about traffic, they're concerned about the neighbourhood and the quality of the neighbourhood," he said.

"What they're proposing to do here is put a bunch of large buildings, immediately adjacent to RC-1 single-family homes, so, you know, it just doesn't fit into the character of what needs to be done."

The former public school building has sat vacant and boarded up since 2018.

The 11.5-acre parcel of land was purchased by Minto Communities with the intent of redeveloping the area into multi-residential housing.

MINTO COMMITTED TO ADDRESSING CONCERNS

Norah Fraser, vice-president of development for Minto Communities, says the proposal and the company's application for a land-use redesignation are still under review.

She says the development hopes to provide a mix of buildings that appeal to a wide variety of demographics, whether that's owners, renters, families, students or seniors.

Despite concerns over high density, Fraser is confident in the work done to engage residents.

"We have undertaken some technical studies and a lot of those revolve around the infrastructure that is proposed for this development," she said.

"So yes, with respect to traffic and density, we've created these studies, we've submitted them to the city, and the city is going to give us some feedback on those technical studies and make sure that the infrastructure can be supported by this type of development."

The land-use process is a lengthy one and is expected to take about a year to complete following feedback from community members.

Minto Communities says it will also publish a "what we heard" report following the engagement process with stakeholders.

"If all goes well, we anticipate we will get approval next summer or fall and we will start servicing, providing infrastructure under the ground in 2025 and start construction either later 2025 or 2026," Fraser said.

“Given the current housing climates and the amount of people that are moving here and the amount of people that need homes, we see this as a really great opportunity to provide much-needed housing to Calgary in general, and specifically much-needed housing to the area where this kind of housing type doesn't currently exist." 

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