Chinatown advocate applauds developer decision to withdraw permit for high-rise condos, hotel

A parking lot in Calgary's Chinatown will stay a parking lot for now, after the developer that owns the land withdrew the permit for a controversial multi-tower development.

Developer El Condor plans to submit new permit for controversial development once issues are resolved

A developer has withdrawn a proposal to build a high-rise in Calgary's Chinatown, pictured on June 18, 2019. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

A parking lot in Calgary's Chinatown will stay a parking lot for now, after the developer that owns the land withdrew the permit for a controversial multi-tower development.

El Condor Lands had proposed a building that would include two 28-storey condo towers with more than 500 units, a 12-storey hotel and commercial space. 

Terry Wong, with Friends of Chinatown, said he was pleasantly surprised Tuesday when El Condor withdrew the development permit at the city's sub-division appeal board, citing technical issues.

Let's not destroy the culture and characteristics of Chinatown.- Terry Wong, Friends of Chinatown

"We're not against development … but we want to do it in such a way that doesn't impact the community in terms of pedestrian safety, traffic congestion, loss of parking, those things will kill Chinatown," he said.

"We're OK if they do development. But let's not destroy the culture and characteristics of Chinatown."

Wong said the group would like to see a smaller development, with more community space or amenities for local residents in the one-block parcel, which is currently a surface parking lot on First Street S.W., between Second Avenue and Third Avenue. 

Terry Wong is with Friends of Chinatown. He said the group would like a smaller, more resident-focused development that preserves the character of the area. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

"One of the things about Chinatown is you cannot buy a four-litre carton of milk here," he said. "So why not have the type of retail where people can do that? Why not a good drugstore, or a medical clinic, that sort of thing?" 

Chinatown's population of about 2,100 people is 50 per cent seniors, he said, many of whom live in residences surrounding the location of the proposed development.

The majority are pedestrians, and Wong doesn't want to see their safety put at risk. 

"We've had too many instances on Centre Street where pedestrians have been hit, some of them fatally," he said. 

The proposed development would have replaced this surface parking lot on First Street S.W., between Second Avenue and Third Avenue. (Google Earth)

Wong said community members presented a 12-page argument against the project to the appeal board last week.

He said he'd like to see further consultation with those that live and work in the 135-year-old community.

"Engage the community, engage the people and listen and understand to what they have to say," he said. "I grew up in Vancouver and I've seen Vancouver's Chinatown on the decline. I do not want to see Calgary's Chinatown decline."

A rendering shows what the proposed development in Calgary's Chinatown could look like. (El Condor)

Coun. Druh Farrell said council supported the project, but now it's up to the developer as to what happens next.

"The last thing I would like to see is surface parking stay in Chinatown for another 20 years," she said. "What we want to see is redevelopment in Chinatown that helps bolster the unique culture of the neighbourhood and provide some housing … we'll see what happens."

El Condor plans to submit a new permit for the site once technical issues with the application are resolved.

'Calgary's Chinatown finds itself at a cusp'

The city recently OK'ed $500,000 to come up with a new plan to guide development in Chinatown, updating the current plan which is decades old.

The neighbourhood is facing changes in coming years, like a new LRT station on the Green Line which will certainly come with a push for more transit-oriented development.

"Chinatowns across North America are facing a number of pressures that threaten their continued existence," a city report on the need for a development plan read. "Calgary's Chinatown finds itself at a cusp whereby a new vision is needed to strengthen the community identity and provide direction on the suitable integration of new developments."

With files from Dave Gilson


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