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January 01, 2006

The right stuff

Calgary Builders and Developers creating communities with character

Allan Connery

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EVERY GOOD COMMUNITY begins with bare land and a plan, but the last, vital ingredient is the people who live there.

Assembling the bare land, planning the community, and creating serviced lots for homebuilders is the work of developers like Hopewell Residential Communities and Carma Developers Ltd.

Robb Honsberger, Carma’s vice-president for Calgary land, has seen many communities emerge from bare land to welcoming streets lined with homes. “It gives me a rush still, after all these years,” he says.

Sometimes the land shapes the community plan. “In Cranston, for instance, there are the views and the river valley and the escarpment.

“In other communities you have to create something, such as Auburn Bay with the lake, or McKenzie Towne, a very flat site where the architecture is the predominant feature,”  Honsberger says.

All modern Calgary communities are built to pretty much the same technical standards. “Between bylaws, land use, building codes, transportation requirements and so on, it’s somewhat remarkable in my mind that there are differences among communities,” Honsberger says.

However, developers set up architectural guidelines to differentiate one community from another. Auburn Bay, for example, is cottage style. “It’s a lot to do with marketing, but also to make sure that over time the community will look good. In Carma’s case, where a community might take 15 to 20 years from start to build-out, you don’t want your older areas being a negative for your later stages,” Honsberger says.

In the long run, the test of a community is its lasting appeal for people who live there. “If somebody’s bought a condo as their first home in a community, and 15 years later they’re buying one of your estate lots, then obviously that community’s met their needs as their family has changed and grown.”

Honsberger says walking is remarkably popular among Calgarians. “We like putting in linear parks and pathways and having people able to use them. Cranston has a lot of pathways to the escarpment and along the escarpment, and there are tons of paths in McKenzie Lake.”

“I think, at the  end of the day, a community is defined more by the people who live there than by anything we do or the city does, though somehow you influence that by the type of community you create,” Honsberger says. 
A comprehensive plan for a good community has to cover many aspects, says Marion Murray, sales and marketing manager for Hopewell Residential Communities.

One important factor is “creating a diverse community by providing a range of different housing types, styles and prices,” she says. “Another component would be the layout of the community, which  encompasses many things – for instance, planning principles that could encourage social interaction and help create a sense of community,” Murray says.

Parks, recreation opportunities and open spaces are important because these are places where people congregate. They talk with their neighbours and meet other members of the community. Pathways are also important in providing a place where people can stop for a chat, or just smile and nod in passing.

Developers also shape the ultimate appearance of a community, Murray says, through planning and architectural guidelines. Even small features like playground equipment, the style of street lighting, a special feature at the entrance to the community, and street benches play a part.

In Tuscany, a Carma-developed community that’s still being built, “The developer really put some thoughtful consideration into the planning,” says Amy Lonsberry, president of the Tuscany Community Association.
Amenities include pathways, a neighbourhood supermarket, the Tuscany Club, a skating rink, and much more. “With such a sprawling city, it’s good to have so much in your community,” Lonsberry says. The community has the best of both worlds, she says: easy access to major roads, but relatively quiet local streets.

“It’s a very young community, though we do have a cross-section of ages, but you see a lot of young families. We have a lot of playgrounds that bring pepople out of their homes, so you do get to know your neighbours. “We have busy families here, but lots of volunteers. The soccer program in Tuscany has more than 800 kids under the age of 12, and you can imagine how many volunteers that takes. We haven’t ever run short of volunteers, though, and that makes me very proud.”

Monterey Park, on the eastern edge of Calgary, is a safe, quiet community, says Carolyn Vodden, former president of the Monterey Park Community Association.

“Along with Coral Springs we’re the two safest communities in the northeast. Our crime statistics are very low, and I think a lot of it has to do with the diversity of our ethnic culture here. We have so many different people out for walks every day, and their presence is a huge deterrent for crime,” Vodden says.

The local shopping area includes a Co-op, a walk-in clinic, fast food outlets and restaurants, a gas station and an auto repair service. “We have all of the amenities that we need immediately, without leaving the community. You even see a lot of people walking there,” Vodden says.

Midnapore and Sundance are established communities, but they’re still vibrant, says Angus Macdonell, president of the Mid-Sun Community Association. 
“We’ve seen a many people stick around for a long, long time, but we’re getting a lot of new families into the area, which has given it some new life,” he says. Family attractions include a community lake, playing fields, and easy access to Fish Creek Park.

“I think the fact we can educate our kids from kindergarten to post-secondary right in the community is a huge plus,” he adds.

Office development along the west side of the communities, next to Macleod Trail, has been beneficial on the whole, Macdonell says.

“A lot of people are moving into the area because there are work opportunities and they don’t have to drive downtown,” he says.

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