The City is drawing up urban design guidelines for large commercial sites, guidelines that could change the face of big box shopping in Calgary.

According to the City, the guidelines would provide consistent guidance to developers and City staff to help ensure large commercial sites create a pleasant public realm, allow for safe pedestrian and cycling movement, reduce the need for car travel within the site, are environmentally sustainable and can be adapted for other uses.

“Aspen Landing is a good example although it’s already been there for three or four years, it definitely shows features we would like to see in other areas,” said Lothar Wiwjorra, senior urban designer with the Urban Design Division. “Calgary’s fairly new in exploring these possibilities and what you normally see is that the large retail drivers are at the periphery of retail sites as in Deerfoot Meadows.”

Wiwjorra explained a site the size of Deerfoot Meadows, isn’t very pedestrian friendly with several lanes of traffic and not very fitting for a “park once” policy. One idea the City is trying for with the new guidelines is to have larger sites become more compact with units closer together.

An example of a new project Wiwjorra is excited about is a shopping area planned for the community of Seton. A local developer is planning a shopping area modeled after a large city main street with a mix of shops and cafes at street level and residential and commercial buildings above.

“It is cutting edge, you know what we do is we look at it from all sides, there’s one side of the ambition as a city to get the best neighbourhood designs as possible,” Wiwjorra said. “That’s our business plan to make them not an afterthought to make them really compact.

He said a concept the City would like to pursue is more retailers within a 300-metre radius similar to what you see on a downtown street with a lot of on street parking.

“Even when I look at Kensington, 10th Street, there’s no reason that retailers — not the Home Depots and the automotive stuff — but there’s no reason why larger retailers like Wal- Mart couldn’t become more like a department store. The department store is the old model of retail.”

The process of developing the guidelines has been a thorough one. In November 2011, City staff met with key stakeholders to assess their needs and began research on the best practices for building large commercial sites. In January 2012, a workshop was held with members of the development industry, designers, community association members and local academics to discuss the objectives of the new guidelines. Between April and June, challenge workshops were held with the goal of understanding how the development industry plans sites and how to identify urban design issues which lead to a focus group in September for feedback on specific design principles being considered.

After circulating the guidelines to internal and external stakeholders and presenting to the planning commission, Wiwjorra said the Urban Design Division will have a proposal for council by the summer break if everything goes according to plan.

For more information on the urban design guidelines visit City of Calgary Development & Building Approvals.