R-G in Ward 12

In Ward 12 Zoning for Housing is recommending a base zone change to R-G. What exactly does this mean for us? To learn more about R-G and my current perspective on the Zoning for Housing recommendations, read more here...

The Residential - General (R-G) zoning designation allows for a mix of housing types including single-detached dwellings, semi-detached dwellings, duplexes, and row houses. It provides flexibility for various residential developments within a neighborhood while maintaining a primarily residential character. 

Find The City info sheet here.

Essentially, it allows single-family homes, semi-detached (duplexes) and row or townhouses, as well as secondary or backyard suites. The homes built on an R-G parcel would have a maximum height of 12 metres, which is very similar to R-1, R-2 or R-1n zoning (10-12 metres depending on conditions). Structures built on R-G could also cover up to 70% (for a laned parcel) of the land area as well, which is more than single-family zoning allows today. This land-use district is still considered low-density residential, even when doubling or more of the number of housing units on and individual property. Someone could not build a high-rise or even a 4-storey walk-up next door within this district. The housing form itself is already commonly used as the base district for developing Ward 12 communities. From McKenzie Towne on, our neighbourhoods were built with a rich mix of housing types and the zonings they require. We have semi-detached, townhomes, and even condos in every single community. The increased density experienced by inner-city communities (R-CG) is more often than not located among streets and neighbourhoods with merely a single style of home: the detached house surrounded by abundant land. Street after street of the same usage and the lowest densities seen across the city.

Urban planners often talk about the "donut" established suburbs in the Calgary context. We have a strong density in the downtown core and a more modern, higher-density ring around the outside of the city. Between those two lies the large stretches of pre- and post-war boom communities, stretching to the limits of 80s and early 90s expansion. In some communities, nothing but single-family homes were zoned and built. Fifty-foot wide lots were common and wide streets capable of fitting 2 driving lanes and 2 rows of parked cars with room to spare bisected these rows of houses. This was an inefficient design. Planning principles have evolved in the ensuing decades to meet the demands of a modern City. Master-planned communities are built with density, mixed-uses, convenient amenities and long-term sustainability in mind. Their one true fault is the distance between them and the core of the city, meaning greater potential travel distances and the need for vehicles for those that live there.


To illustrate this fact here are some examples from Ward 12, compared to established neighbourhood land-use changes that have recently been at Council:

Community Local Zone Homes Acres Hectares Units/Acre Units/Hectare
Capitol Hill R-C2 25 2.96 1.20 8.45 20.87
Banff Trail R-C1 21 2.79 1.13 7.53 18.60
Cranston R-1N 30 2.2 0.89 13.64 33.70
Seton R-Gm 34 2.19 0.89 15.53 38.56

(Each selection included a lane, shared by both sides of houses, and was typical of local density)


Now I want you to know that I am hearing from concerned Ward 12 constituents, fearful of unwanted change, and I am not unempathetic to your voices. A lot of information is currently circulating related to the worst possible outcomes of this proposed change. I am having conversations with those concerned about the worst possible outcomes happening right next to them and row houses invading their single-family home zoned cul-de-sacs. Is this something you should be concerned about? The short answer is no. Firstly, based on the information above, our neighbourhoods do not have the potential to absorb additional units as easily as the established areas can (lot sizes). Second, the homes being replaced are more often than not well past their prime. They are 50, 60, 70 years old, or even older. They are energy inefficient, needing retrofits or upgrades to be brought up to modern standards, and their value has dropped far from peak, which is the opposite of new homes in new communities. For example, there are inner-city lots that have been worth less while the homes are still upright, as they don't pencil out for a retrofit and therefore incur the added cost of demolition.

Another great reason for seeing these changes within inner-city communities is that the choice is not available to people who wish to live there. If you are looking to live in a low-maintenance rowhouse, it rarely exists in much of the city. In places like Mahogany or Auburn Bay, it's not that far away. You can fall in love with a Ward 12 community and live in a purpose-built rental, upgrade to a condo, upgrade again to a rowhouse or semi-detached, upgrade again to an estate home, and then retire to a low-maintenance lifestyle in seniors living or a complex like Westman Village. It's all here, and you could spend 60+ years in the same community, in a variety of housing forms.

One of the great changes that is legalized in R-G (and R-CG) zoning, is the ability to include unique forms of housing, like backyard suites. Imagine having the opportunity to support your mortgage or have a grandparent live in a suite above your garage. This is very common in McKenzie Towne and was one of the distinctive features that brought international recognition for this creative community design. It can be done in other communities but requires a costly and time-consuming process just to get approval for the building form. Secondary/basement suites are allowed in essentially all residential districts, and have been since 2018, but creative uses of your own property have been much harder to initiate.


Why consider upzoning the whole City?

The need for housing and a refresh of our housing supply in our established neighbourhoods is a huge challenge due to the political headwinds it faces. The zoning reform is not meant to be a silver bullet—this is one segment of the housing continuum and the arguments against it generally only hold up under weight it isn’t meant to carry. The simple fact of the matter is that there is over sixty per cent of The City where we are not able to build anything but a single-family home. The battle for where to add incremental density dominates our planning department and gums up the bureaucracy. A move to give people more rights with what they do with their own land and directly tackle some of our biggest challenges has me largely leaning in support of the recommendation.




Affordability by deterioration

One of the biggest arguments against this move is a very factual observation that the units replacing old R1 single-family homes are often more expensive. Redevelopment is almost always more expensive than what it replaces. The most expensive redevelopment is when an R1 replaces an R1. The cheapest, per square foot, is R-CG. Protecting affordability by making it difficult to redevelop homes, especially those that are at risk of being condemned is not a long-term affordability strategy. Further, any line of reasoning that states that retrofitting is the only path forward (it certainly has a role) negates the economic and sustainability benefits of adding density to The City.

Incentivize housing choice

Right now, the Land Use Redesignation process and the uncertainty inherent in the process make it difficult to move forward with confidence. Risk and delays in any project add costs and barriers and the proposed upzoning will make a significant difference by removing an expensive step in the process that can be seen as a "role of the dice" for development interests. Council is currently approving R-CG at a rate of over 95%. The development permit stage ensures that projects comply with the rules and The City is further suggesting keeping multi-family as a "discretionary use" which gives communities full ability to challenge the impacts of these projects on their communities through the Calgary Subdivision and Development Appeal Board.

Growth with less liability

Our City is staring down a seven-billion-dollar infrastructure gap. We have far too much infrastructure to maintain given the amount of ratepayers. Now, we are going to grow as a region regardless and this proposal encourages smarter growth. Housing prices have been a long-standing competitive advantage in our region with communities like Airdrie and Cochrane leading in growth rates. Right behind this are our outer suburbs. This leads to transportation and service level poverty as our city spreads out and lagging infrastructure like transit and rec centres fall further and further behind. We need to get serious about growth in established areas and the zoning reform is an important step in the right direction. It is less expensive for the city to allow more homes where we have already built infrastructure (roads, water and sewer pipes, and utilities) than at the edges where the only users of this infrastructure are the new residents.



There are many things about redevelopment that are challenging for communities. Losing mature trees, shadowing, privacy, and the “feel” of the street changing and unsettling those that have lived there for generations, to name a few. These are inherent in the redevelopment process and inevitable in all cities on a positive economic path. The biggest impact on Calgary over the next stretch will be the large public outcry from those who fear the worst of all of those outcomes popping up right next to them and feeling extremely motivated to fight City Hall on the change because of it—often without learning much about why we would consider it in the first place.

Building up, not out is increasingly becoming a commonly agreed-upon goal for our City. How we do that carries the weight of resistance for many people. Allowing for incremental change across our City spreads out the impacts and is one of the best actions we can take alongside our affordable housing strategy.


Minimal Ward 12 impacts

Yes, the direct impacts will be felt less in Ward 12 but this isn't why I lean toward supporting the rezoning. Making the city livable and affordable for all, is a shared responsibility. As someone who lives in and fights for the priorities of our suburban communities, I have also committed to standing up for all Calgarians. By supporting the efforts to build more homes in established areas, I am also supporting better amenities and healthier local businesses in those neighbourhoods that directly benefit from more vibrancy. I believe we should all push for increased funding for transit and recreation for both inner and outer communities. We will welcome many more new residents to our city in the coming years, and as they settle in new developments or in areas established before we were born, they should all have the same opportunities to build a life in Calgary.


Let me know what you think!

I would appreciate hearing from you ahead of the April 22 Public Hearing!

Please fill out the survey here.


As always don't hesitate to reach out with feedback on this or any other questions or concerns related to The City and Ward 12.

Email: [email protected]


Evan Spencer

Cllr. Ward 12

  • Evan Spencer
    published this page in Blog 2024-03-27 18:14:23 -0600